Medically reviewed by Dr Jen Haley, Dermatologist on 19 April 2020
What Causes Hyperpigmentation? Why You Have an Uneven Skin Tone and What to Do about It
We all want good looking skin. Skin so smooth and clear that we never have to worry about how we’re going to cover it up again. But there’s one thing getting in the way of that - hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is the frustrating cause of uneven skin tone everywhere.
Noticeable by the dark patches of skin it creates, hyperpigmentation is a result of excessive melanin production and distribution, the pigment responsible for the colour of your skin. Although the term hyperpigmentation is used as a catch-all for various skin conditions, it typically shows up in one of these forms:
- Areas darker than the rest of the skin, brown or grey in colour (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation)
- Areas darker than the rest of the skin, red, pink or purple in colour (post-inflammatory erythema)
- Areas lighter than the rest of the skin, usually white in colour (hypopigmentation)
What causes hyperpigmentation?
The most common cause of hyperpigmentation is sun damage and acne scarring. This can be incredibly frustrating, just as you think your acne is over you have another problem to deal with! But don’t panic, there are ways to treat it.
Even though hyperpigmentation is linked with acne scarring, it isn’t a scar in the true sense of the word - it isn’t permanent.
This type of hyperpigmentation is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (or post-inflammatory erythema - a person’s natural skin tone will determine how they respond). It occurs as a result of the skin producing too much melanin whilst it’s healing from its inflammation.
Although hyperpigmentation from acne scarring can be experienced by anyone, of any race or gender, it does tend to be more prominent in people with darker skin tones due to more melanin being present.
Sun damage is a big cause of hyperpigmentation here in Australia (where our UV rays are notoriously strong) and is one that we often see in our customers.
When our skin is exposed to high doses of UV radiation, it naturally produces more melanin to help absorb harmful UV rays in an attempt to protect the skin from sun damage. It’s this reaction that creates that tanned holiday look that so many of us love.
However, when our body produces too much melanin, what we had hoped would become an even tan can appear blotchy and uneven as dark patches appear on our skin. This is hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure or damage.
It’s only natural that, as we grow older, we’re exposed to more sunshine over time. This increases our risk of developing sun damage, which can present itself in the form of age spots (also known as liver spots).
These age spots appear darker in contrast to the rest of the skin, and are a result of excessive melanin production. They’re typically found in areas that have experienced a high volume of UV rays from sun exposure, such as the face, hands and forearms. Over time, the body is not as efficient at producing melanin and what used to be an even brown tan later becomes irregular pigmentation with sun spots and areas of hypopigmentation, where the skin’s melanocytes lose the ability to tan. This results in uneven darker and lighter areas in the skin.
Pregnancy and hormonal changes
Ever heard of “the mask of pregnancy”? This is a form of hyperpigmentation officially referred to as melasma, which is usually a result of a hormonal imbalance or hormonal changes.
Melasma is very common amongst pregnant women (affecting up to 50% of women during pregnancy, according to The British Skin Foundation), as well as those taking hormonal contraceptives or on hormonal replacement therapy, but it can affect men as well.
If you’ve ever had a mild burn or experienced some form of skin injury, you’ll notice that you often have a small pale scar that heals with time.
When the skin experiences trauma or injury, it sometimes results in a temporary loss of pigment (or colour) as the affected area is healed. This is known as hypopigmentation, as the skin becomes lighter than the surrounding area.
Eczema, another type of skin trauma, can cause both hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation. Both types of pigmentation can come as a consequence of damage to the skin from the eczema itself, or as a result of excessive itching due to the urge that many eczema sufferers feel to scratch their skin, resulting in eczema scarring.
Mild trauma to the skin often results in hyperpigmentation, whereas severe trauma to the skin will result in hypopigmentation. Areas that are scratched or pimples that are picked will often have hypopigmentation or loss of pigment centrally surrounded by hyperpigmentation peripherally where there was a bit less inflammation. Hypopigmentation is harder to treat so avoid picking and scratching to prevent this from happening.
Hyperpigmentation: How to get rid of it
Now that you know what’s causing your hyperpigmentation, how do you get rid of it?
If you take just one thing away from this article, we hope it’s this one - use sunscreen. Not only does sunscreen help prevent your precious skin from health scares such as cancer, but it also reduces hyperpigmentation as your skin is protected from UV rays, reducing its need for melanin production.
Bonus - daily sunscreen use can also help prevent hyperpigmentation! We love the Mesoestetic - Mesoprotech Melan 130 Pigment Control sunscreen as it protects your skin from UV rays while simultaneously regulating pigmentation.
Beyond sunscreen, you can also use products containing the following ingredients to help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation:
- AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) to remove dead skin cells and encourage skin cell renewal
- Vitamin C to reduce the production of melanin and lighten dark spots
- Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to reduce inflammation and inhibit the transfer of pigments within the skin
- Vitamin A (Retinol) to work deep into the skin and even out overall skin tone
We’ve put together two hyperpigmentation regimen sets to help your skin get back to normal as quickly as possible - one for general hyperpigmentation and one for dermal (deep) hyperpigmentation. You can expect to see results in 4-6 weeks!
Need help deciding the best skincare regimen for you? Get a free virtual skincare consultation with our skin specialist using the chat function on our website.
Written by Mr Brains and Brawn
April 7th, 2021