Even with exercise and a good diet, sometimes your skin doesn’t cooperate and glow like it should. If you are noticing dark spots on your skin, you may be experiencing hyperpigmentation. I’ll cover some basics about what it is and then explain some ways to address it.
What is it? Hyperpigmentation is a darkening of the skin caused by overproduction of melanin, a pigment in the skin and may appear as spots or patches. Hyperpigmentation can affect any area of the body, but can be a particular nuisance when it appears on the face. Hyperpigmentation is the result of either an abnormally high concentration of melanocytes that produce melanin, or melanocytes that become hyperactive, such as through sun exposure.
Hyperpigmentation can be broken into three basic types which are categorized by their cause.
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation: This type of pigmentation is the result of skin injury including acne, psoriasis, burns and some professional skincare treatments. The dark coloring will fade as the skin heals but the process may take several months.
Melasma: Commonly called the ‘pregnancy mask’ this form of hyperpigmentation is caused by hormonal changes. Typically, pigmented areas are on the face and these dark patches can create rings around the eyes. Hormonal changes that can occur through pregnancy are frequently the cause, but some women experience this when taking birth control pills.
Lentigines: Often referred to as ‘liver spots’ or ‘age spots’ these dark spots are caused by UV exposure. While they can appear more noticeable with age, this kind of hyperpigmentation is not caused by age.
You probably noticed that the majority of causes of hyperpigmentation are normal life events: pregnancy, acne and sun exposure, which is why it is so common. But you don’t need to accept it. If you are bothered by the way it looks, there are several treatment options. You will see the best results with a combination of topical treatment and non-surgical skin procedure that removes skin from the surface of your face (sometimes called resurfacing), such as microdermabrasion, laser skin resurfacing or a chemical peel. As you look into treatment, look for facial promotions offering a series of treatments. Many skin care professionals will offer a special price for a series of treatments as a facial promotion and will work with you to customize the treatments.
What can be used to treat it? Talk to your esthetician or doctor about the best combination of topical treatments and skin resurfacing for your skin. Some of the common topical treatments they may discuss with you include azeliaic acid, niacinamide, hydroquinone, kojic acid, and mandelic acid. Azeliaic acid has proven beneficial in the treatment of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide has been shown to significantly decrease hyperpigmentation including melasma with only mild side effects. Hydroquinone has been used for more than 50 years and is the only FDA-approved product for skin lightening, but can be irritating to some skin types. Kojic acid can be as effective as hydroquinone and is sometimes used in conjunction with hydroquinone to improve results, but may also be irritating to some individuals. Mandelic acid is used for all types of hyperpigmentation and is often combined with salicylic acid and administered as a peel.
Daily preventative care is critical if you are currently treating hyperpigmentation or want to avoid hyperpigmentation. Regular use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen (e.g., it blocks both UVA and UVB rays) throughout the day, every day, is a must. A single day in the sun can undo months of treatment. For cleaning, exfoliating and moisturizing, you should use skin care products that have active ingredients proven to minimize hyperpigmentation. Seeing dark spots or patches on your skin or face can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are options to address those spots. And, by adopting these on-going skincare habits, you can keep your skin glowing and enjoy a more even tone.