HOW TO TREAT HYPERPIGMENTATION
WHAT IS HYPERPIGMENTATION?
Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition where your skin begins to show darker patches due to the development of excess pigment (also known as melanin). This pigment is the major determining factor of your skin tone and helps protect your skin from UV rays. It is produced by specific cells, called melanocytes, with assistance from an enzyme in your body called tyrosinase. Limited sun exposure results in an even skin colour, but prolonged sun exposure stimulates the overproduction of melanin, resulting in hyperpigmentation.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF HYPERPIGMENTATION
There are a number of pigmentation disorders, including rare diseases and syndromes. Some of the most common types of hyperpigmentation include:
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation / Erythema (PIH/PIE)
Inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs during the wound healing process after your skin has experienced trauma for example a pimple. PIH typically presents as brown marks and is more common in darker skin tones, whereas PIE usually shows as red marks and is a higher risk in lighter skin tones.
Sun Spots / Photoaging
These are caused overtime by 2 main factors: prolonged sun exposure and ageing. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. The UVB rays cause immediate burning and redness, while UVA rays travel through glass and penetrate your skin deeper, causing sunspots and premature ageing
Formerly known as chloasma, this type of hyperpigmentation is characterised by grey/brown irregular patches on your skin. It is more common in women and is triggered by intense sun exposure and hormones, during pregnancy or menopause (1).
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF HYPERPIGMENTATION?
- Sun - UV rays trigger the production of melanin pigment. UVA rays cause pigment to darken in the long term, not only contributing to new hyperpigmentation, but making pre-existing pigmentation harder to fade.
- Ageing - When you reach 30 years old the number of active melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) decreases by 10-20% per decade (2). But pre-existing melanocytes become larger and concentrated, causing more visible skin pigmentation, known as age spots.
- Inflammation - A pimple, scratch or insect bite triggers an inflammatory response, which stimulates melanin production. This pigment transfers to surrounding cells, resulting in PIH/PIE. Don’t pick your spots as this risks more inflammation and scarring.
- Hormones - When your skin is exposed to sunlight the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, stimulate overproduction of melanin. These hormones fluctuate during menopause, pregnancy, contraceptive pill, illness and stress.
HOW DO YOU TREAT HYPERPIGMENTATION?
- Sunscreen - As UV rays are a major contributing factor of hyperpigmentation, sun protection is key to prevent hyperpigmentation. Look for a high UVA SPF for your face to prevent photoaging and sunspots.
- Antioxidants - These protect your skin from free radicals (unstable molecules which damage skin DNA) made by UV rays and environmental pollutants. With age your natural antioxidant levels decline, increasing your risk of photodamage and pigmentation (3)
- Exfoliate - Chemical exfoliants (e.g. lactic acid and glycolic acid) bring new skin to the surface, by shedding skin cells which contain melanin pigment. This helps to accelerate the process of fading hyperpigmentation. However, use carefully as strong skincare products can sensitise skin and impair your skin barrier health over time.
- Get a professional treatment - If you need a helping hand with fading tough dark spots and acne scars, speak to a medical professional. Chemical peels, microneedling, laser treatment and intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy are all treatments for hyperpigmentation.
- Brightening actives - Vitamin C, azelaic acid, kojic acid and hydroquinone are all brightening and lightening skin care ingredients. They benefit most skin types, while helping to even your skin tone and improve discolouration.
- Hyperpigmentation is caused by excess melanin pigment
- Sun exposure is one of the primary causes of hyperpigmentation
- Melasma, sun spots & PIH/PIE are the main three types
- Pigmentation is triggered by the sun, inflammation, hormones and ageing
- Protecting your skin from further hyperpigmentation can be as simple as using sunscreen daily and using topical antioxidants
- Treatment options involves exfoliating or getting a professional treatment
This article’s intention is to educate, not to provide medical advice. Always speak to a medical professional or certified dermatologist first.