What is hyperpigmentation?
In simple terms, hyperpigmentation is where excess melanin causes areas of the skin to darken abnormally. The dark spots or dark patches that occur can be caused for a number of reasons and it can be difficult to totally get rid of it. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by scarring after acne, injury to the skin, over-exposure to the sun, or for hormonal reasons.
Types of hyperpigmentation
There are many types of hyperpigmentation and many causes. Some of the most common types of hyperpigmentation are:
Age spots – also known as liver spots or lentigines. These are caused by over exposure to UV rays from the sun over an extended period.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – these are generally caused by some kind of “injury” of some sort or some other inflammation, generally cuts, burns, rashes or acne. Most of us have experienced this type of hyperpigmentation at some point. The dark scars caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can fade after weeks or months but in many cases, it can take several years.
Melasma – also known as chloasma. Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation that generally occurs during pregnancy, estrogen is responsible for stimulating skin cells to produce extra melanin and this causes dark patches on the face. Melasma symptoms can also occur in women taking estrogen-based contraception or hormone replacement therapy.
Hyperpigmentation can also be caused by certain medical conditions such as celiac disease and Addison’s disease or as a side effect of certain medications. Some medications can cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun, therefore further increasing the risk of hyperpigmentation if you are exposed to sunlight.
Hyperpigmentation is sometimes caused by friction and dry skin and can occur on any body part. Common problem areas are the knees, elbows, knuckles, underarms and more intimate areas such as between the thighs or around the anus.
How to treat hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation can improve on its own it often takes several months or even years. Many people choose to use some sort of skin lightening treatment in order to speed up the improvement of symptoms. There are several treatments available in order to speed up the process and fade dark marks.
Hyperpigmentation can be treated with topical treatments such as skin lightening creams or with more involved cosmetic procedures such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels and laser treatment. Most of these procedures are carried out by a dermatologist but home treatments are becoming more and more popular. Microdermabrasion and chemical peels are no longer confined to the dermatologist’s office – it is possible to find milder treatments that are safe for the home but the instructions to still have to be followed carefully.
When it comes to skin lightening products, there are dozens available on the market. Skin lightening creams, gels, soaps and pills are common. When it comes down to which to choose, this generally comes down to personal preference.
If you’re using skin lightening products, be sure to use sunscreen
Melanin is responsible for determining our skin color and when the skin is exposed to the sun, more melanin is produced and that is why most people’s skin gets darker in the sun. If you are dealing with hyperpigmentation in a particular area, when these areas are exposed to the UV light, excess melanin is produced and that is why it is especially important to use sun screen if you are treating hyperpigmentation. Using skin lightening products to treat hyperpigmentation and not using sunscreen is just throwing money away. You won’t see the best results with any skin lightening treatment unless you use a sunscreen and I recommend that you use at least SPF 30.
Choose safe skin lightening ingredients
There are a number of effective ingredients found in skin lightening products. Some are safe and some can be harmful to your skin. The most common skin lightening agent, and one of the most effective is hydroquinone however, there is a lot of debate about how safe it is to use. Hydroquinone has been linked to a skin condition called ochronosis – a condition that causes permanent discoloration of the skin. Some lab tests have also shown that there may be a link between hydroquinone and cancer and further studies are taking place to determine if hydroquinone can cause cancer in humans. Currently, skin lightening products containing up to a 2% concentration of hydroquinone are FDA approved and available over the counter in the US but are banned in many other countries including the United Kingdom and many parts of Africa.
Even at low concentrations, hydroquinone should not be used for prolonged periods and if you need to treat hyperpigmentation over a period of over 3 months, I would strongly recommend using products that do not have hydroquinone as an active ingredient.
Other ingredients that are known to cause damage to the skin include mercury and corticosteroids. When choosing a skin lightening treatment, it is best to avoid these altogether.
Alternative skin lightening ingredients include arbutin, kojic acid, licorice extract and Vitamin C.
You can treat hyperpigmentation with ingredients you in your kitchen
Lemon juice applied to the skin is widely used as a home remedy for acne and skin blemishes. Lemon juice is really great at removing dead skin and brightening the skin over time. It does make the skin more sensitive to the sun so it is really important to wash it off and use sunscreen after. Better yet, use it before bed so you avoid exposure to the sun altogether.
Turmeric is a dark yellow spice common to South East Asian cooking. It is known to treat burns and reduce hyperpigmentation. There are a number of turmeric face masks you can make but the simplest is to create a paste with turmeric and lemon juice and apply it to the affected areas.
Potatoes also contain natural skin bleaching agents and chances are you already have some in your kitchen. Grate the potatoes, squeeze out the juice then you can apply the juice to the affected areas using a cotton ball.
Other natural home remedies include aloe vera and honey. Both have natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that allow the skin to heal quickly with minimal scarring.
But what if you need to see faster results? Consistent use of skin lightening products will start to show results in as little as two weeks but 2-3 months is more likely. Anything that promises faster results is likely to be harmful to the skin so be sure to read those labels.