THE ABCS OF SKIN HYPERPIGMENTATION
What is increased skin pigmentation?
Increased skin pigmentation is known clinically as hyperpigmentation. Increased skin pigmentation is not necessarily a condition. It is just a clinical term that describes a “darker-than-normal-skin.” Skin hyperpigmentation can:
- Cover large areas of your body
- Affect your whole body
- Occur in patches
While skin hyperpigmentation may not be harmful, it may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. This article will teach you about the types of skin hyperpigmentation, the causes of increased skin pigmentation, and the necessary treatment.
Types of skin hyperpigmentation
Increased skin pigmentation is of several types. The common types of skin hyperpigmentation are sunspots, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
- Sunspots: They are also known as solar lentigines or liver spots. Sunspots are a common occurrence. The primary cause is prolonged exposure to the sun. Sunspots appear on body areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face and the hands.
- Melasma: Hormonal changes are believed to be the major cause of melasma. It may develop during pregnancy. Hyperpigmentation may appear on any part of the body, but the face and the stomach are the most common sites.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: This is due to inflammation or injury to the skin. Acne is a common cause of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Symptoms and risk factors of increased skin pigmentation
The major symptoms of skin hyperpigmentation are darkened patches on the skin. The size of the patches varies and can develop on any part of the body.
The main risk factors for skin hyperpigmentation are inflammation and exposure to the sun. Both factors can stimulate the production of melanin. The more exposed you are to the sun, the greater your risk of having an increased skin pigmentation.
Other factors that may constitute a risk for skin hyperpigmentation include:
- Use of oral contraceptive or pregnancy, which manifests in melasma
- Having dark skin. Dark skin is prone to changes in pigmentation.
- Taking drugs that may make you more sensitive to sunlight.
- Superficial burn injury, a wound, or any other skin trauma.
What causes skin hyperpigmentation?
One of the commonest causes of skin hyperpigmentation is the overproduction of melanin. Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for your skin color. Melanin is produced by melanocytes. Melanin production may be altered by several factors or conditions.
Some drugs or medications may also contribute to hyperpigmentation. Increased skin pigmentation may also be a side effect of chemotherapy drugs.
Hormone levels in a woman are affected by pregnancy. These hormonal changes can affect the production of melanin in some women.
Addison’s disease, an endocrine disorder can cause skin hyperpigmentation in areas that are frequently exposed to the sub, such as the neck, face, hands, and areas that consistently undergo friction, such as the knees and the elbows.
The hyperpigmentation is caused by an increase in the level of your body hormone that results in high melanin synthesis.
Overproduction of melanin may also be the result of excessive exposure to the sun.
Diagnosis and treatment of increased skin pigmentation
Skin hyperpigmentation can be diagnosed by a dermatologist. Your dermatologist will ask for your medical history and also conduct a physical examination to determine the cause. Sometimes, a skin biopsy may help determine the cause of your increased skin pigmentation.
Some cases of skin hyperpigmentation can be treated with topical medications. An important component of most topical medications is hydroquinone. Hydroquinone lightens the skin.
It is important to note that using topical hydroquinone for an extended duration (and consistently) can darken your skin – a condition known as ochronosis. Your best bet is to use topical hydroquinone only as instructed by your dermatologist. They will give you proper guidance on the use of the medication.
Topical retinoids can also help to lighten the hyperpigmented spots on your skin.
The effects of both medications can take a few months to manifest.
Over-the-counter medications also help to lighten dark spots on your skin. The hydroquinone content of these medications is similar to those of prescription medications.
The use of sunscreen may also be classified as home care. Sunscreen greatly helps in improving most causes of hyperpigmentation. Consider:
- Broad-spectrum coverage
- An SPF of 30-50
- A physical sunscreen whose most active ingredient is zinc oxide.
Sunscreen should be used daily. Ensure that it is reapplied every two hours if you are out in the sun. You can reapply it more often if you are swimming or sweating.
Visible light may play a role with some skin disorders in triggering hyperpigmentation, for instance in melasma.
If this is the case, you may purchase a mineral sunscreen containing iron oxide. It can also block visible light. You should wear SPF-infused clothing.
Your doctor may also recommend chemical peels or laser treatment to reduce the hyperpigmentation, although this depends on the cause.
How can I prevent skin hyperpigmentation?
Preventing skin hyperpigmentation is not always possible. That said, some protective measures include:
- Using a sunscreen whose SPF is not less than 30
- Wearing clothing or hat that prevent sunburn
- Avoiding strong sunlight.
Some medications may contribute to increased skin pigmentation. Avoid these medications.
Prognosis for hyperpigmentation
Generally, hyperpigmentation is not harmful and does not indicate any serious health condition.
Sometimes, the hyperpigmented areas may fade on their own if they are well protected from the sun. Treatment does not guarantee complete fading of the dark spots.
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Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.