What You Need to Know about Hyperpigmentation
I have many patients who come to me with hyperpigmentation, in which blotches of skin, usually on the face, turn darker than normal. For many people, this is a very distressing skin condition. They worry about the possible causes of hyperpigmentation, how it affects their overall appearance and whether it can be treated. However, I find that when patients understand what hyperpigmentation is, many of their concerns are allayed.
The Causes of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation generally occurs with excessive melanin production in the body’s cells that are called melanocytes. Melanin gives the skin its color, and when there is too much melanin the skin can turn brown. Hyperpigmentation most often looks like a dark blotch on the skin, and it can vary in size from small to large. While hyperpigmentation is frequently seen on the face, it can also appear elsewhere on the body.
There are a few common causes for hyperpigmentation. One type of hyperpigmentation that women experience is melasma, which is due to hormonal changes that can happen during pregnancy, and sometimes with the use of birth control pills. The melasma spots often are seen on prominent areas of the face such as the forehead, cheeks and chin.
Another frequent cause of hyperpigmentation that I see in patients is prolonged sun exposure that takes place over many years. This can result in liver spots on the hands, age spots on the face or freckles that have grown darker on the arms, chest or other body parts that have seen too much sun. This exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun can also worsen melasma.
One of the most important points to note is that hyperpigmentation is harmless in most cases. A highly qualified and experienced dermatologist can diagnose hyperpigmentation with a physical exam and determine if there is a need for testing for any underlying medical condition. This may include taking a small sample of the skin for a biopsy.
A dermatologist can also discuss appropriate prevention or treatment options with a patient, which may include sunscreen, lasers, chemical peels or creams that contain hydroquinone or tretinoin, which are skin brighteners that may help fade these dark patches. In some cases, hyperpigmentation spots may fade on their own, but it is always advisable to see a dermatologist for an exam to rule out any medical conditions.
Hyperpigmentation can dramatically impact someone’s appearance, but with a consultation with your dermatologist and appropriate treatment, it often can be satisfactorily resolved.