Hyperpigmentation: What Is It And How to Get Rid of It

Jul 7, 2020

Share this article

Hyperpigmentation: What Is It And How to Get Rid of It

Image shared by @la_cede

Though you might be surprised to learn it, dark spots on your skin are a common occurrence, and in most cases, the spots are harmless. However, it can be frustrating to have discolored patches of skin on your face, harmless or not. 

Never fear, we aren’t leaving you on your own to figure out how to reduce hyperpigmentation. Keep reading for everything you ever wanted to know about those dark spots and what skin care products you should start using today to minimize this uneven pigmentation. 

What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is an overproduction of the pigment in your skin that gives it color. This pigment is called melanin. The result of an overproduction of melanin is that you may have spots or patches of skin that look darker than the skin around it. 

Skin hyperpigmentation can cover your entire body, it can cover large areas of your body, or it can just occur in small patches, such as on your face. It can also affect any skin type. 

Hyperpigmentation is not an actual medical condition but merely a term doctors use to help describe how it looks when there are darker patches of skin surrounded by normal skin. 

Though hyperpigmentation is usually benign, sometimes it can be a warning sign of an underlying medical condition. If you are worried, consult a dermatologist.

Types of Hyperpigmentation

There are 3 different types of hyperpigmentation.

  • Melasma
  • Age spots
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Type of Hyperpigmentation 1: Melasma

It’s believed that melasma is caused by hormone fluctuations. Often, melasma occurs during pregnancy. Melasma will typically appear on the face and stomach and occurs most often in women.

Type of Hyperpigmentation 2: Age Spots 

Age spots may also be called sun spots or liver spots. These spots emerge as the result of too much sun exposure. You will usually see age spots on areas of skin that are most exposed to sunlight, including the arms, legs, and face. 

Type of Hyperpigmentation 3: Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation 

This type of hyperpigmentation is usually the result of some kind of injury or inflammation of the skin. Acne, cuts, burns, and even lupus can trigger post-inflammatory skin hyperpigmentation. 

What are Risks Factors for Hyperpigmentation? 

  • Chemo drugs, topical steroids, and antibiotics
  • Pregnancy hormonal changes
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Addison's disease
  • Acne scarring and eczema 
  • Skin trauma and superficial burns
  • Cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and scratching
  • Darker skin that’s vulnerable to pigment changes

How Long Does It Take Hyperpigmentation to Fade?

Keep in mind that hyperpigmentation does not always fade. Even with treatment, some hyperpigmentation will be permanent. Without any treatment at all, it can take 3 to 24 months to see improvement. It really depends on the severity of darkened skin and how much the hyperpigmentation covers.

How Do You Stop Hyperpigmentation? 

One of the best ways to prevent hyperpigmentation, is to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen each day. Hyperpigmentation results from too much sun, so if you can reduce your exposure then you will help prevent discoloration from occurring. You can also help stop any current hyperpigmentation from getting worse, by limiting your exposure and wearing SPF 30 or higher. You should wear sunscreen even during winter or on cloudy days.

For hyperpigmentation that occurs because of trauma or injury, keep your hands off your skin and do not pick. If you pick at acne, spots, and scabs, or even squeeze a tempting blackhead, you will trigger inflammation. 

Inflammation increases the production of melanin and before you know it you will have unsightly skin discoloration. Remember, the more you mess with a tiny spot or wound, the worse it will begin to look. 

What is the Best Treatment for Hyperpigmentation?

See a dermatologist to help you determine the underlying cause of your hyperpigmentation and come up with ways to treat and fade your dark spots safely. They can also help you come up with the proper order of face products to ensure maximum effect of their ingredients. Some recommended treatment options include:

Hydroquinone Cream

Hydroquinone is a topical medication that can be applied to the skin in different strengths, to help fade dark spots. The enzyme that helps produce melanin is blocked by hydroquinone, allowing the skin to lighten over time. However, it pays to be careful with this topical, as it can lighten your natural skin color too if applied incorrectly. 

Many hydroquinone creams contain other helpful lightening agents too, like vitamin C, glycolic acid, kojic acid, and retinoids like tretinoin to increase its efficiency. Be careful not to use hydroquinone for a prolonged time period as it can actually cause unwanted darkening of the skin if you don't monitor its use closely. 

Topical Retinoids 

Topical retinoids work by increasing the rate of cell turnover and are typically used as an acne treatment. However, because of the high cell turnover, it also works well to help fade dark spots caused by hyperpigmentation. The only problem with these treatments is that you can’t always get them without a prescription. 

You also have to be careful because if they cause redness or irritation, they can be a trigger for hyperpigmentation instead of a treatment. Another downside is that topical retinoids and hydroquinone both can take a few months before you see an improvement.

Azelaic Acid

If you aren’t able to use hydroquinone for some reason, this could be a great alternative. It’s believed to work just as well as hydroquinone and it works by the same mechanism, speeding up cell turnover and reducing inflammation. Like hydroquinone, it’s used to treat acne and can only be obtained through a prescription. 

Over-the-Counter Skin Care Products for Hyperpigmentation

Sometimes it’s not practical to see a dermatologist to try to treat dark spots. That’s okay because there are plenty of over-the-counter options that can help fade them for you. 

Retinol Serum

There are OTC retinoids and serums that you apply to the face to inhibit the enzyme that produces melanin. It works much like prescription retinoids, stimulating cell turnover, although results may take longer since it’s not prescription strength.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a popular ingredient for many skin care products because it works so well at reducing discoloration, ridding the skin of dead cells, and regenerating new skin cells. It comes from sugar cane and helps keep pores clean and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Our glycolic acid mask is a wonderful product that you can use morning and night.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a vital component of any skin care routine and even more so if you suffer from hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C works a lot like retinol, inhibiting the production of melanin by inhibiting tyrosinase and keeping dark spots from marrying your skin. The benefits of vitamin C are threefold. Not only does it lighten dark spots, it helps brighten your complexion and neutralizes the damage from free radicals related to excessive sun exposure. Vitamin C serum and boosters can help prevent hyperpigmentation and reduce the appearance of existing dark spots.

Kojic Acid

Much like retinol and vitamin C, kojic acid inhibits tyrosinase. This reduces the production of melanin and by extension, reduces or prevents the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Kojic acid is a fan favorite for many skin care products because of how well it evens skin tone, lightens, and treats acne. It also has antioxidant properties that help stimulate cell regeneration. Out with the old, in with the new! 

Aloe 

Bet you didn’t know that grandma’s favorite sunburn treatment also helps fight melanin and prevent hyperpigmentation! It works a lot like the previously mentioned treatments, inhibiting tyrosinase and reducing the impact sun damage can have on the skin. You can even apply aloe directly from the plant itself, with little side effects. Aloe also happens to be a staple ingredient in many skin care routines for dry skin and may promote healing.  

Moisturizer with Oomph

When encouraging cell turnover, it’s important to keep your skin well hydrated. A great moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and retinol can be effective in helping lighten areas that have dark skin pigmentation while drenching your skin in moisture it desperately needs. 

How Can I Lighten My Hyperpigmentation Fast?

Under the care of a dermatologist, you may try chemical peels or laser treatments to reduce hyperpigmentation depending on what the initial cause was. There are also procedures like intense pulsed light and micro dermabrasion that may offer some success in fading dark spots quickly. 

There are a lot of options available when trying to figure out how to reduce hyperpigmentation. When trying out new skin care products, look to natural solutions first, before resorting to prescription medications that may come with unwanted side effects. Be sure to practice a regular skin care routine daily, and use products that support cell turnover and proper hydration and balance. Don’t lose hope. With consistency and time, hyperpigmentation can fade.