Hyperpigmentation is the term used by dermatologists to describe darkening of the skin and nails. The darkening is actually the skin pigmentation increasing rather than it staining or changing in composition.
The darkening can appear anywhere on the body – common areas are the back of the hands, arms, the face and chest. They appear mostly as blotchy areas that almost look like a stain and can vary in color and consistency.
The darkening of the skin is due to an increase of melanin in the outer layers of the skin. Melanin is a natural pigment that occurs in humans and other organisms. Its production is stimulated by UV-B radiation (sunlight) and is used to protect from the radiation by dissipating it as heat. So when you are getting a tan in the sun, your skin is actually darkening to protect itself from radiation damage that in some cases could result in malignant melanoma and skin cancers.
What actually causes Hyperpigmentation?
The actual cause of Hyperpigmentation is an increase of melanin production in the skin.
There are various reasons why someone can experience an increase in melanin. The most common is from sun damage, but other causes are:-
Melanin is produced by cells known as melanocytes which operate in the lower levels of the skin. Certain enzymes are involved in the process whereby the melanocytes create and transfer the melanin to the outer layers of the skin which appear to us as pigmentation – or put simply – as color or a tan.
Who is susceptible to Hyperpigmentation?
It is possible that our genes play a role in whether we can suffer from hyperpigmentation. As outlined above there are various conditions and situation that can cause the problem too. By far the most susceptible people are those that get regular sun exposure.
Women in pregnancy can suffer with a condition that is referred to as melasma or “pregnancy mask”. This is caused by a hormonal shift. The condition can continue even after the pregnancy is over.
Our ancestry and background can highly effect whether we are liable to be affected by hyperpigmentation. People from Asia and the Middle East actually have more melanin in their skin and are therefore more likely to develop the brown patches on their skin. Conversely people from Scandinavia have a very low level of occurrence as they are very light skinned due to a low level of melanin in their skin.
How to Treat Hyperpigmentation
There are a few options that you can choose to help with any pigmentation problems you are experiencing.
The effectiveness of skin brightening creams are improving all the time. The ingredients they contain these days are now known to inhibit the enzyme activity that causes the melanocyte cells to produce melanin. Rather than bleach the skin, you should use a cream that prevents melanin production
Prevent with sun block
Although this is preventative rather than a treatment – If you can prevent more melanin being produced then the treatment you do use will hopefully be more successful. Using a high SPF sun block (30+) will help to block out the harmful UV radiation that triggers melanin production.
Lower the use of drug intake
Inflammation is also a cause of increased melanin production. If possible try to keep prescription drug intake to a minimum and improve your general health and well being with a nutritious diet and increase the amount of exercise if you are living a sedentary lifestyle.
Warning: Do NOT use any treatment that contains Hydroquinone. It has been banned in many countries around the world for its cancer causing potential. Although there are some that argue that it is safe, it seems to be a contentious issue still, so if you can use a product without hydroquinone then you are lessening your risk.