Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition where discolouration appears on the skin. These areas can look like blotchy patches, condensed freckles or dark spots. Hyperpigmentation occurs when excess melanin (brown pigment) forms deposits in the skin. While the condition can affect people of all ages and skin types, those with a lot of melanin already – that is, darker skin tones – are more susceptible to developing it. There are a few main triggers of hyperpigmentation:
Also known as melasma, this form of hyperpigmentation is linked to hormonal changes and, particularly, a rise in oestrogen levels which stimulate excess melanin production. It can show up in people taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, as well as during pregnancy (in which case it’s called chloasma), but it can also just come down to genetics.
Trauma-induced hyperpigmentation, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, mostly appears as flat brown spots on the skin. It occurs after the skin has experienced trauma (from surgery or the misuse of in-clinic treatments such as microdermabrasion, lasers and peels) or inflammation (from acne, eczema or allergic reactions). In these instances, melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) are triggered as part of the body’s healing response and go into overdrive, darkening and discolouring the area of the skin that experienced the trauma or inflammation.
Exposure to UVA and UVB rays is the number one cause of premature ageing; it’s also the primary trigger behind hyperpigmentation. Prolonged exposure causes oxidative stress to the skin, resulting in hyperpigmentation in the form of dark spots (sun spots or age spots).
The best way to protect yourself from any type of potential hyperpigmentation is by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every day (rain, hail or shine) and limiting your exposure to sunlight.
Although hyperpigmentation poses no medical or health risk, many people who experience it want to seek treatment for aesthetic purposes. Just know that it can be a gradual process with no promise of change overnight. In-clinic treatments include chemical peels, dermabrasion and laser. At home, I’d suggest incorporating a skin-brightening vitamin C serum into your morning routine, using a gentle chemical exfoliator (like salicylic acid) once or twice a week to encourage skin cell turnover, and trying a low-strength retinol at night to penetrate deep into the skin where pigment itself is produced.
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