Hyperpigmentation is one of those annoying skin care concerns that seem to pop up out of nowhere—it's as though you just wake up one morning and right there across your forehead, cheeks, or chin is a smattering of brown-tinged patches that continue to taunt you every time you get even remotely close to a mirror.
But if you think these spots will disappear as effortlessly as they seemed to materialize, get ready for a rude awakening: Hyperpigmentation treatment is going to take a little bit of effort. While some types of hyperpigmentation, like the sort that comes after you've popped a rather big pimple, will slowly fade, this can still take months. And there are other types (like the kind produced by UV exposure) that will take a little coaxing for it ever to fade.
This topic is one that is definitely best discussed in-depth so we compiled a list to go through the options available. Keep reading for what we gathered…
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that can affect all skin types and all ages. If you have it, you'll start to notice patches on the skin that don't seem to match your normal skin color. It'll often show up as brown patches, not too dissimilar to large freckles. There are two classifications, localized or diffuse, meaning it appears in small patches on the skin or as a larger area of altered pigmentation.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
Most cases of diffuse hyperpigmentation are caused by systemic conditions. These conditions can include Addison's disease, hyperthyroidism, or hemochromatosis. Diffuse hyperpigmentation may also occur because of a medication side effect.
On the other hand, localized hyperpigmentation tends to represent a direct injury or inflammation to the skin, and is the more common type seen in dermatology clinics. Anything that causes inflammation in the skin can potentially send a signal to our melanocytes, the cells that produce brown melanin pigment as part of an immune response. This inflammation can be caused by UV damage, acne spots and breakouts, harsh chemicals on the skin, and even hormonal fluctuations, such as those in pregnancy or when taking the contraceptive pill.
Are Some People More Susceptible to Hyperpigmentation Than Others?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Melanocyte instability is the main reason we develop hyperpigmentation. These pigment-producing cells that live at the dermo-epidermal junction and basal layers of our skin can become hyperactive if triggered and start overproducing melanin, leading to hyperpigmentation and sunspots. The more baseline melanin you have in your skin (i.e., the darker your skin tone), the more risk you have of developing hyperpigmentation in the first place.
Can You Avoid Getting Hyperpigmentation?
As with most skin care concerns, prevention is better than cure. First up: Nip any potential problem areas in the bud by caring for wounds as soon as they appear. Wound care is important because areas of healing, such as a scratched bug bite or a picked pimple, are prone to infection and inflammation—making hyperpigmentation of the skin more likely. That also means cleaning the skin with a gentle cleanser and not picking at the leftovers (scabs or old pimple scars) or scrubbing with a harsh cleanser.
You'll definitely want to make sure you're taking proper sun care precautions (regardless of whether or not you have any recent wounds). Sun exposure is one of the most controllable factors. Patients prone to hyperpigmentation must avoid direct exposure, wear hats and other occlusive clothing, and always wear a sunblock of SPF 30 or higher. My overall favorite types of sunblock are mineral blocks containing micronized zinc and titanium dioxides.
You should also avoid retinol during the day—as UV rays destabilize skincare ingredients and increase your risk of photosensitivity—and use skin care that includes pigment-stabilizing ingredients, so they'll be less likely to overproduce melanin and leave you with pigment spots (whether the trigger is UV damage, hormones, or outbreaks).
How Can Hyperpigmentation Be Treated?
Hyperpigmentation is multifactorial: There may be genetic, metabolic, hormonal and environmental factors, all acting as triggers. So we need to remind you that there is no single therapy available that will completely cure hyperpigmentation. But with a more holistic, multi-therapy approach, you can get great results. Using a combination of at-home and in-clinic based procedures, you can generally achieve adequate reduction and even complete resolution, depending on your skin and your individual results.
That does come with a disclaimer, however: It's not going to be easy for all of us. The most challenging treatments are those people with post-inflammatory pigmentation (PIH) and a darker skin type. There may be some residual pigmentation, but it is reduced to a level where self-confidence is restored, which does give us all some hope.
1. Sun Protection
SPF, we meet again. It goes without saying that protection from melanocyte-triggering UV damage is integral to the success of your treatment program. Look for a combination of mineral and chemical blocking agents such as titanium dioxide and ethyl salicylate to provide adequate broad-spectrum protection.
2. Over-the-Counter and Prescription Topicals
Our good old friend retinol can help here—when used only at night, of course. A daily dose of vitamin A (retinol) 0.5 percent to 1 percent works well for most people as it's a fabulous multi-tasker and in a good quality cosmeceutical formulation it works to reduce cell damage, boost repair, regulate oil production, boost collagen formation and reduce pigmentation. It has a melanocyte-stabilizing and melanin-breakdown effect. Look for a night cream or serum formulas that contain this magical ingredient (UV rays will destabilize it) and ones that come in opaque packaging.
Also look for skin care formulas that contain natural skin brighteners. Anything with sunflower (rich in B vitamins), niacin, and pantothenic acid (commonly labeled as vitamin B5), which naturally brighten and improve skin tone. But whatever you do, don't use bleaching agents on your skin to try to lighten pigment. This can potentially worsen pigmentation and lead to scarring.
Gentle chemical exfoliants can also enhance and increase the rate of skin cell renewal—basically inducing the hyper-pigmented skin to be replaced by new skin cells. This can also be done through topical creams, washes, and solutions that have ingredients like vitamin C or glycolic acid. A physical exfoliant is also an option: Microdermabrasion is a gentle physical form of exfoliation. It can be utilized to slough surface skin cells causing a faster cell turnover and quicker fading of darkened skin.
When In Doubt, Skin Care It Out
Last but not least, is your skin care regimen at home. Adding the above mentioned ingredients will help, but what you also want is a bit of help without having to break the bank for peels, IPLs, and other expensive medi spa services. So, look for a different skin care routine that can help soothe, protect, and nourish your skin, morning and night.
Wild Naturals skin care line is rich in so many natural ingredients that with the addition of retinol and a routine microneedling appointment (much more cost effective than peels and IPLs), you can see a real difference in your hyperpigmentation!
Shop now and say bye bye to those pesky sunspots!