What is hyperpigmentation?
A harmless skin condition, hyperpigmentation causes patches of skin – usually on the face – to become darker in colour than the surrounding areas.
The condition can affect people of any age and race.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
An excess of melanin – the pigment which determines your natural skin colour and also the extent to which you tan in the sun – causes the skin to darken due to a build-up of deposits in the skin’s layers.
Liver spots – also known as ‘age spots’ – are a form of hyperpigmentation. These spots develop as a result of sun damage and are most often seen on the face and hands, as these areas see the most frequent exposure to the sun.
Melasma – or chloasma – spots resemble age spots, but they tend to be darker in appearance. These areas of skin hyperpigmentation appear due to hormonal changes such as pregnancy.
Chloasma is often referred to as ‘the mask of pregnancy’ as the overproduction of melanin whilst pregnant can lead to darkened skin on the face, abdomen and other areas of the body.
The contraceptive pill can also lead to the development of hyperpigmentation, as the body undergoes similar hormonal changes to those that occur during pregnancy.
Darkened patches of skin can also appear as a result of acne, which may leave darker patches once the condition has cleared. Surgery can also cause darkened patches of skin as the skin heals.
Freckles are an inherited skin trait and are not classified as hyperpigmentation.
Can hyperpigmentation be permanent?
Any form of hyperpigmentation can become darker or more visible following exposure to the sun. Melanin absorbs UV rays from the sun, which causes the skin to darken – or tan.
How can you treat hyperpigmentation?
Traditionally, skin lightening creams containing hydroquinone were used to treat skin hyperpigmentation. Skin bleaching products gradually fade and lighten darker areas by slowing the production of melanin. A reduced production of melanin causes darker patches to fade back to match the surrounding areas of skin.
Bleaching and lightening creams should be used with caution, as unpleasant side effects can occur, including:
In extreme cases, skin lightening creams can cause the skin to crack or blister.
An effective way of treating hyperpigmentation is through the use of specialist laser treatments such as V Beam, which are designed to reduce pigmented patches without scarring or irritation.
The Obagi Nu-Derm range of skincare is a specialist range, designed with a specific formula which corrects hyperpigmentation and age spots.
For severe cases of hyperpigmentation, tretinoin is an effective treatment, although this can irritate sensitive skin.
How long does it take hyperpigmentation to fade?
Visible improvements in areas of hyperpigmentation will depend upon your own skin type and the severity of the condition, although it is recommended you follow a course or treatments prescribed by your clinic.
Treatment with tretinoin can take between 3 – 6 months to show results.
A high-factor, broad spectrum sunscreen is essential during and after treatment for hyperpigmentation. Even a single day of excess exposure to the sun can reverse several months of treatments.