Hyperpigmentation can be simply defined as a darkening of an area of skin as compared to the surrounding area, and is a common and generally harmless condition where areas of skin are darkened by an increase of melanin. This is usually considered a cosmetic condition and for the most part presents no medical concern.
Hyperpigmentation can appear as small dark macules (freckle-like blotches) or large patches of brown discoloration. Large flat patches or small spots of hyperpigmentation can be found anywhere on the body, although it appears most predominantly on the face and hands where sun exposure is the most prevalent. It does affects all races, both men and women, and can be prevalent in youth as well as middle age and beyond.
One thing to remember is that hyperpigmentation is not a skin infection and it is not contagious. Basically it is caused by an overproduction of melanin in the skin.
And By Melanin We Mean Pigment
Melanin is responsible for pigmentation or color in your skin. Melanin is produced by melanocyte cells, and is also responsible for color production in skin, hair, and eyes.
The melanocyte cells of the skin are in the epidermal layer or superficial upper layer of the skin. The more melanin produced, the darker the pigment of skin. Fair skin has less melanin produced than darker skin tones.
As the body ages, melanocyte cell distribution in the skin becomes more condensed, and the production of melanin becomes less controlled. This leads to dense concentrations of melanocyte cells that over produce melanin, which in turn leads to distinct tan or brown patches of hyperpigmentation.
Excessive melanin production that leads to hyperpigmentation can be as slight as light tan discoloration, or as abundant as a dark brown to black tint.
The work of melanocytes and their production of melanin is a unique and wonderful defense mechanism of the human body. In the case of excessive environmental exposure, hormonal changes, or skin trauma the protective production of melanin can increase to excess and lead to hyperpigmentation.
Melanin and the Sun
Melanin production is the body’s defense against the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. It protects against sunburns and cancerous changes in the skin by absorbing the harmful UV rays of the sun. This protection mechanism is apparent when the areas exposed to the sun become darker in pigment.
With repeated, unprotected exposure to the harmful UV rays of the sun, skin cells are broken down, that is when melanin production becomes less controlled. It is at this point when hyperpigmentation becomes more prevalent and darker. When exposed to sunlight, skin with hyperpigmented areas darken more easily than the surrounding skin.
Avoiding excessive sun exposure and wearing sun protection is the first step in limiting the overstimulation of melanin production that leads to hyperpigmentation.
The Main Types of Hyperpigmentation
Melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), and lentigines are the main types of hyperpigmentation.
- Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation provoked by hormonal fluctuations. Melasma is often referred to as the mask of pregnancy. Pregnancy, birth control pills, and thyroid dysfunction are common examples of melasma triggers. The symptoms of melasma include dark irregular demarcated macules (freckle-like blotches) or patches on the cheeks, forehead, nose, upper lip, and abdomen.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is hyperpigmentation induced by any skin injury or trauma, including acne lesions, burns, cosmetic procedures, or surgery. Discoloration is apparent after the injury has healed.
- Lentigines are dark speckled discolorations known as age or liver spots that affect the hands, face, and other areas exposed to the sun. Although lentigines become more prevalent with age, they are actually related to sun exposure.
Melasma, PIH, and lentigines are conditions of the upper epidermal layer or superficial layer of the skin. These are considered treatable cosmetic disorders. There are various products on the market both over-the-counter and perscription based that you or your doctor can effectively use to treat these conditions.
Superficial hyperpigmentation is a cosmetically treatable condition that responds well to treatment. Since hyperpigmentation is not a skin infection, but merely an over-stimulation of melanocyte cells, treatment for hyperpigmentation can be done at home.
The first step of treatment for hyperpigmentation is sun protection. Since the sun stimulates melanin, and melanin produces pigment, wearing a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen will create a barrier between the sun and melanin. This is especially important for the face.
Dark hyperpigmentation blemishes of the face are an aesthetically disconcerting condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The symptoms are commonly expressed as dark irregular defined patches on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and upper lip. These dark patches often develop gradually over time, and continue to darken with excessive sun exposure. This is why sun protection is so vitally important in the treatment of hyperpigmentation.
Sun protection together with Meladerm skin lightening cream can fade and diminish the visible areas of discoloration. Skin lighteners that inhibit or slow down the production of melanin are most effective in diminishing hyperpigmentation. A skin lightener with a combination of lightening and melanin inhibiting ingredients are most likely to visibly positive results.
Overall, superficial hyperpigmentation is very treatable. It is possible to drastically diminish the discolored appearance of hyperpigmentation and achieve flawless skin.