Every day you’re exposed to images of perfect skin. Whether in magazines, on the television, or online, you see all these photos of people with flawless, uniform skin, and then you look in the mirror.
Ugh. Where did those dark splotches come from?
It’s called “hyperpigmentation,” and it gets in the way of that uniform, flawless complexion you’d like to have. Where does it come from, and what can you do about it?
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a condition in which certain areas of the skin become darker than the rest of the skin. It’s not harmful to your health, but it can interfere with your skin tone, and make you less than ecstatic about your appearance.
Hyperpigmentation occurs when an excess of melanin—the pigment that produces skin color—forms in one concentrated area. The color depends on the person’s skin tone, and may vary from red and pink to brown, dark-brown, and even purple-looking. The shape of the hyperpigmentation can also vary from spots to streaks or even patch-like clusters.
There are different types of hyperpigmentation, including the following:
- Acne scarring
- Dark spots
- Freckles that grow and darken
- Melasma (mask-like hyperpigmentation caused by hormonal fluctuations and sun exposure)
- Post-inflammatory (in response to an injury like a burn, chemical treatment, etc.)
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
What causes hyperpigmentation depends on the type. All of them are exacerbated by sun exposure.
- Acne scars: These form after the pimple heals. They are more likely when the acne is severe. Picking, popping, and scratching can also cause a deeper, more lasting wound. Sun exposure makes these scars appear darker.
- Dark spots: Also called age spots, sunspots, or liver spots, these are formed because of a combination of sun exposure and damage to the skin that occurs over a person’s lifetime.
- Freckles: These are hereditary, and appear more often in those with fair complexions. Sun exposure typically makes them appear darker.
- Melasma: Hormonal changes, birth control pills, and pregnancy can lead to a mask-like form of hyperpigmentation that covers the cheeks, forehead, and nose. Sun exposure makes it worse.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: If you injure your skin somehow, or if you suffer from an inflammatory skin condition like psoriasis or rosacea, you may also have hyperpigmentation. These conditions encourage inflammation, which then triggers overproduction of melanin. The color of this type varies depending on the individual’s skin tone.
What to Do About Hyperpigmentation
No matter what’s causing your hyperpigmentation, what you really want to know is how to get rid of it, right? Though some types (like freckles and some acne spots) may fade on their own, most need treatment to appear less noticeable. Below are seven tips that will help.
- Keep your hands away: Anytime you scratch, squeeze, or pick at your skin, you make the problem worse. You can a) increase the inflammation, and b) introduce microorganisms that increase risk of infection. That means it’s best to keep hands away from acne, bites, itchy areas, and the like, and use topical treatments instead. Wash gently, and treat, but then leave it alone.
- Exfoliate regularly: This is the first step in treating your dark areas. Sloughing off that top layer of skin exposes the younger skin cells underneath, and can help gradually fade away dark areas. To take it a step farther, ask your dermatologist about “microdermabrasion,” which gently removes the uppermost layer of skin and can help to fade darkness.
- Use gentle lightening ingredients: Though hydroquinone can lighten skin, it can also create negative side effects. We recommend you choose other lightening ingredients, including vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinimide, licorice root, and azelaic acid. They all help inhibit tyrosinase, the enzyme that helps form melanin. Regular use of products with these ingredients can help gradually fade away the dark areas. You can also try adding turmeric to your skin-care routine. (It’s in our Tri-Rescue Complex in all products!) The main active compound in turmeric, called “curcumin,” blocks the activation of proteins in the skin that activate melanin production. In one 2012 study, researchers found that “curcumin inhibits melanogenesis in human melanocytes….”
- Add in some retinol: Retinal products help speed skin cell turnover, which provides a number of benefits to the skin, including helping to smooth skin tone.
- Protect fiercely: There’s nothing more disappointing than spending months fading those dark spots only to have them come roaring back after one day, but that can definitely happen if you don’t protect your skin from the sun. Use sunscreen, hats, and umbrellas, and take advantage of the shade.
- Chemical peels: These can be very effective on hyperpigmentation, but be cautious about using them, as they can cause inflammation and make the dark areas worse. Glycolic acid has been found to be the gentlest, so start with that, or salicylic acid. You can also talk to your dermatologist about professional treatments, but make sure that he or she is experienced in treating your type of skin.
- Laser treatments: These are usually a last resort, and are reserved for only the worst kinds of hyperpigmentation. The treatments can be effective, but also expensive, and if you have sensitive skin, they can cause redness and irritation. Talk to your dermatologist and consider all the risks and benefits before moving forward.
How do you deal with hyperpigmentation?
Tu CX, et al., “Curcumin inhibits melanogenesis in human melanocytes,” Phytother Res., February 2012; 26(2):174-9.