Hyperpigmentation is a condition that can be hard to treat. It does not resolve quickly, and it is commonly associated with sun exposure.
Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin goes through a series of stages to rid itself of added pigment. When this process takes longer than it should, hyperpigmentation results, the following are some causes: genetics, loss of blood supply in the area (ischemia), or inflammation (or an allergy).
Treatments include topical agents, chemical peels, laser therapy, and surgical excision. All these treatments have potential side effects, so patients should consult a physician before choosing which one best suits them. In addition, people who wish to prevent hyperpigmentation should take steps to reduce the risk of sun exposure, tanning booths, and specific cosmetic procedures.
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is caused by many factors, including genetics, sun exposure, inflammation, or an allergy. Hyperpigmentation presents uneven skin tone due to uneven deposits of melanin. The following expands upon the causes:
- Genetics - Hyperpigmentation is believed to have a genetic component in some patients. This may result from an abundance of melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce the pigment called melanin; the rate at which these cells work and how much they produce determines skin color and tanning capacity.
- Loss of Blood Supply - Ischemia, also known as hypoxia, may be caused by the accumulation of excessive amounts of fluid in certain tissues, or it may result from poor blood circulation. Both conditions have been linked to hyperpigmentation over time because they cause a decrease in oxygen and nutrient flow to cells within the skin. Ischemia can occur following trauma, such as severe bruising due to an injury. However, it can also happen without obvious cause.
- Chemical Exposure - some chemicals are used for the treatment of hyperpigmentation. However, not all are safe for everyone, especially pregnant women. Excessive amounts of exposure to certain chemicals can cause tissue damage and chemical burns.
- Allergies - even if you are not allergic to a particular substance, your body may produce an immune system response. Allergic reactions within the skin can cause inflammation which in turn causes hyperpigmentation over time.
- Certain Medications - Some medications have been linked to hyperpigmentation, including birth control pills. Birth control pills regulate periods and prevent pregnancy. Both of these drugs may be prescribed for other reasons, depending on a person's condition. However, long-term use or high doses may cause side effects that include hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation resolves slowly and can be hard to treat. However, the following are some treatments:
- Topical Agents - Topical agents applied to the affected area may help reduce hyperpigmentation. These products can have side effects, including skin rashes, itching, and irritation. In addition, some people may not tolerate some topical medications over the long term, but they do work quite well when taken as directed by a physician.
- Chemical Peels - Chemical peels remove a layer of skin from the affected area so that new cells can grow back with even levels of pigmentation. A series of five peels usually works best for treating hyperpigmentation.
- Laser Therapy - Some laser treatments are also used to treat hyperpigmentation. Since this technique involves exposure of the affected area to high-intensity light, it is usually only recommended for people with dark complexions since other skin colors may not absorb enough light to be effective.
- Surgical excision - surgery involves removing a portion of the skin affected by hyperpigmentation and has been known to work in extreme cases. However, surgery should always be performed by a qualified professional, especially when treating facial areas, because the removal process can lead to scarring that affects appearance. Another option for those wishing to avoid surgery entirely is laser therapy which works well on smaller areas with minimal side effects.
Some simple lifestyle changes may help prevent hyperpigmentation. First, do not use tanning beds. Tanning beds expose the skin to excessive UV radiation, leading to pigment irregularities and damaged cells that are vital to a healthy appearance. The most effective way to avoid the negative effects of tanning bed exposure is to stay out of them altogether.
Use sunscreen at all times when outside to protect your skin from too much sun exposure. Sunscreen lotions and creams should be applied 15 minutes before venturing outside on sunny days wearing or reapplied every two hours for best results. Pay particular attention to certain areas such as the face, ears, lips, and back of hands since they are more likely to burn in the sun.