What Causes Hyperpigmentation And How Do You Get Rid Of It?
7 minutes read
While it is harmless and can manifest as pesky post-acne scars or dark patches on the skin caused by hormonal imbalance, it can also indicate the existence of other underlying illnesses.
Beauty Daily does a deep dive into what causes dark spots to solve your hyperpigmentation woes with the help of the pros.
What is hyperpigmentation?
First, a quick science lesson: Our skin colour is determined by a pigment called melanin produced by specialised cells called melanocytes. These are found in the stratum basale layer (the innermost layer of the epidermis).
Melanin’s role is to protect the skin against sun damage. Sunburn or a tan is a sign of UV damage.
But when the melanocytes become unhealthy or damaged, it accelerates melanin production, causing ‘abnormal’ skin pigmentation.
“Hyperpigmentation occurs when our melanin builds up under the skin and forms patches large enough to be seen on the surface of the skin,” explains Julie Brown, founder of The Source Clinic and certified beauty therapist.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
“Hyperpigmentation is when certain areas of your skin are darker than the rest. There are multiple causes known for triggering hyperpigmentation: sun exposure, irritation from skincare products, melasma, ageing process, inflammation on the skin, and allergic drug reaction to other very rare medical conditions,” Dr Anastasia Therianou MD, PhD, London-based NHS consultant dermatologist tells Beauty Daily.
Here we list seven common causes of hyperpigmentation and ways to treat them.
1. UV exposure
Unprotected and extreme sun exposure leads to irreversible sun-damaged skin issues, including hyperpigmentation. This can manifest on the skin in the form of dark patches, freckles, sunspots, or, more generally, uneven skin complexion.
Unfortunately, it is irreparable when the damage is done, but you can minimise and protect yourself from further deterioration through skincare products and treatments.
Treatments: Beauty Daily recommends using products from the Extra-Firming Range. The key ingredient, a potent vitamin C derivative called acerola, is proven to target hyperpigmentation.
Brown also recommends doing professional treatments like lactic acid peels and IPL skin rejuvenation as maintenance to prevent worsening pigmentation visibility.
Read next: Can You Reverse Sun Damage?
2. Pollution particles
Another hyperpigmentation culprit is air pollution. Experts say people who live in cities are more likely to develop 22% skin pigmentation than those who live in rural areas due to prolonged and repetitive exposure to environmental pollution and the sun.
Treatments: Given the toxic combination of UV and pollution, it’s essential to invest in anti-pollution skincare. Thankfully, there are a whole lot of products available in the market to pollution-proof your skin.
Beauty Daily recommends double cleansing after a long day spent outdoors and removing dirt and debris from the skin trapped in layers of SPF and makeup via Velvet Cleansing Milk.
“It is formulated with moringa extract that’s known for removing debris from the skin. It’s a good way to purify your skin after being exposed to all kinds of pollutants,” Charlotte McHale, Clarins Training Manager, says.
Read next: What Is Pollution Doing To Your Skin?
3. Post-inflammation, acne, or injury
When the skin goes through an injury, trauma, or inflammatory phase, such as acne or eczema, the skin is left darkened or discoloured and that’s called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
Yes, your stubborn post-acne mark is also a form of hyperpigmentation.
Treatments: To effectively fade away spot scars, Beauty Daily recommends Bright Plus Advanced Dark Spot-Targeting Serum.
It has all the dark spots fighting ingredients, such as vitamin C and new organic sea lily, to fight hyperpigmentation. It also has rose-myrtle and acerola seeds to promote cell oxygenation, which both help improve blood circulation to the face. In turn, skin looks bright, and it evens out the complexion.
4. Hormonal imbalance
Some pregnant women may develop a type of hyperpigmentation called melasma or the ‘mask of pregnancy.’ Dr Therianou explains: “Melasma is caused by hormones, genetics, pregnancy and sun exposure combined.”
Experts say it is usually not a long-term skin condition and fades within a few months of delivery.
Treatments: Wear high SPF to prevent it from becoming a permanent issue. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), wearing sun-protective clothing, like a sun hat will help. Wide-brimmed hats that surround the head offer the most protection.
“Creams under prescription with an active ingredient called hydroquinone, and some chemical peeling also help,” Dr Therianou adds.
Age spots typically start to appear later in life, but this largely depends on the amount of sun the skin has been exposed.
Experts say age spots usually appear on areas of the skin that are often in sunlight, such as the face, hands, arms, shoulders, and neck area.
Treatments: Plant and fruit extract desert date and hexylresorcinol are scientifically proven to reduce the appearance of age spots and are key ingredients in the Clarins’ 60 and up Nutri-Lumière Range.
The Nutri-Lumière Day Cream was crowned the winner ‘Better not younger’ by The Sunday Times Style Beauty Awards in 2020. It soothes and reinvigorates tired-looking skin while promoting an even complexion.
Then there’s Montepellier rock rose, researched in partnership with the National Institute for Health and Medical Research, which targets the dark spots linked to ageing, especially following hormonal changes. Result? A reduction of 48.9 % in age spots after two months of using Clarins Super Restorative Night Cream.
6. Allergic drug reaction
Allergic drug reactions such as rash, hives, and itchy skin account for up to 20% of all cases of acquired hyperpigmentation.
Dr Therianou says: “We can get rash from an allergic drug reaction; when the rash goes away, it can leave hyperpigmentation.”
Pigmentation may be induced by a wide variety of drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), phenytoin, antimalarials, amiodarone, antipsychotic drugs, cytotoxic drugs, tetracyclines, and heavy metals.
If you have symptoms of a drug allergy, see your doctor as soon as possible.
7. Extreme digital screen exposure
Yes, too much Instagramming and watching Netflix can lead to hyperpigmentation. So limit your electronic device usage to avoid dark spots from developing.
Research shows blue light from digital devices can lead to changes in skin cells, including cell shrinkage and even cell death. These speeds up the ageing process and, mind you, exposures as short as 60 minutes can trigger these changes.
It’s also worth mentioning that dark circles are also a form of hyperpigmentation called periorbital hyperpigmentation.
In case you are not aware, lack of sleep is not the leading cause of dark circles but hyperpigmentation. It is caused by environmental (sun exposure, smoking, and diet) and genetic factors.
Treatments: The Double Serum Eye is McHale’s product recommendation for all of us glued to our devices. It has gained it’s cult-status and five-star reviews – it effectively fights fatigue-related eye issues caused by blue light.
What do dermatologists recommend for hyperpigmentation?”
Brown suggests three things: vitamin C, retinol, and SPF and here’s why:
1. Broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
One of the ways to prevent hyperpigmentation from worsening or, better yet, from happening is by religiously applying sunscreen and staying out of direct sunlight.
Beauty Daily Daily SPF pick? The UV PLUS [5P]. It protects the skin against UV rays and all the five types of everyday pollutants: atmospheric, indoor, pollen, blue light and photo-pollution. It is in an easily absorbed gel-cream that has a non-oily feel and glides like butter on the skin.
2. Does vitamin C help with hyperpigmentation?
Vitamin C (also called L-ascorbic acid) is best known for its brightening properties and fading hyperpigmentation abilities. It is one of the three most-searched skincare ingredients last year, along with hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid.
Superfood turmeric is rich in vitamin C and is the hero ingredient in Double Serum along with 21 powerful plant ingredients that work on boosting the skin’s five vital functions: hydration, nutrition, oxygenation, protection and regeneration to visibly fight all signs of ageing.
3. Retinol for hyperpigmentation?
Another active ingredient is the potent vitamin A derivative, retinol. It helps cells regenerate and accelerates skin cell turnover hence the shedding revealing a brighter and reduced appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Organic Harungana, used in Madagascar traditional medicine to heal wounds and has been shown to work 40% more effectively than the far better-known retinol.
Harungana is found in all the Super Restorative products.