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What is Hyperpigmentation? Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Hyperpigmentation refers to areas of the skin where the pigment known as melanin becomes more concentrated. This causes the area to acquire a darker tone and can appear in the form of freckles, moles, birthmarks, or other spots. So, what are the causes of hyperpigmentation? And how can you treat and prevent it?

First of all, it’s important to note that skin gets its color thanks to natural pigments like hemoglobin, melanin, and carotenoids. Melanin, in particular, gives color to the eyes, skin, and hair. It forms in the melanosomes out of its precursors, tyrosine and tyrosinase.

The main function of this pigment is to protect the DNA from the damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. However, when overstimulation takes place, it can lead to hyperpigmentation, which many people find bothersome.

What are the causes of hyperpigmentation?

According to an article in Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, one of the frequent causes of hyperpigmentation is exposure to sunlight. This stimulates the skin to develop melanin, which has a protective effect against UV rays.

In fact, this is the reason why many people enjoy being out in the sun–because it helps them get a tan.  However, prolonged exposure alters this process and causes damage to the skin. Eventually, this leads to hyperpigmentation. Below, you’ll find some of the associated risk factors:

  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Age spots: These appear as a result of age, but also due to sun exposure.
  • Anti-inflammatories: This occurs after the healing process of a skin lesion, such as a burn, cut, psoriasis, or eczema. In particular, the area may become slightly raised and darker in color.
  • Hormones: Melasma or chloasma. Irregularly-shaped dark spots appear when female sexual hormones produce a stimulus in the production of melanin due to sun exposure. This can take place during pregnancy or while a woman is taking birth control pills.
  • Sun exposure: This is the main cause of hyperpigmentation. Any spot on the skin–age posts, freckles, melasma, or post-anti-inflammatory hyperpigmentation–will change its color due to sun exposure.
  • Medication: Hyperpigmentation can also be a side effect of some medications. For example, certain hormonal treatments, chemotherapy medications, anti-malaria drugs, antibiotics, blood thinners, among others.
  • Illnesses: Hyperpigmentation can also be a sign of other illnesses. For example, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune processes, gastrointestinal disease, or metabolic disorders.

How to prevent hyperpigmentation

In general, there are several actions we can all take in order to reduce the risk of developing hyperpigmentation. However, it’s important to note that you should apply these measures on a daily basis.

  • First of all, you should use sun protection all-year-round. That is, spring, summer, winter, and fall. If possible, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.
  • Limit your exposure to the sun. Avoid being in the sun between 11 am and 6 pm.
  • Use adequate clothing that offers sun protection.

Depigmentation treatments

The treatment of hyperpigmentation is a challenge for health professionals. While treatments have advanced over time, reversing this problem is still a difficult task. In fact, according to a study that appeared in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, topical treatments are ineffective for many patients. So, what are the options?

  • Chemical peeling: This minimizes hyperpigmentation by unveiling a new layer of skin with a homogenous tone.
  • Laser treatment: Here, the effect is similar to the one involving acids, but dermatologists can apply laser treatment with much more precision. In short, professionals cause injury to the most-affected areas using a high energy light laser. The more intense the treatment, the more effective it will be on reaching the deepest layers of the skin.
  • Topical creams: The use of hydroquinone is useful in many cases. However, it’s important to be careful in order to prevent irritation and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C is effective against spots and can be used along with other active ingredients. In recent times, the importance of substances like kojic acid, arbutin, retinoids, and azelaic acid.

Hyperpigmentation: What to keep in mind

If new spots appear on the skin, or irregularities associated with hyperpigmentation, it’s best to consult with a professional. A dermatologist will be able to determine if the spots are normal or have some pathological origin. What’s more, he or she will be able to recommend the best course of treatment, according to each individual case.

It’s important to note that depigmentation treatments won’t provide results overnight. Rather, they require time and consistency. What’s more, remember to practice basic, preventative care, especially when it comes to sun exposure.

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