Hyperpigmentation is the generic description for dark patches of colour on the skin. This common condition occurs when too much melanin is produced in the skin, leaving a brown pigment which is darker than the usual skin colour. It can affect people of any age and race.
Common forms of hyperpigmentation are large freckles, age spots or sun spots, caused by sun exposure. These are known as lentigines and usually occur on the hands, face and arms where the skin has had more exposure to direct sunlight.
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by other factors, such as hormonal changes in pregnancy, contraceptives or medication. This type of hyperpigmentation is known as melasma or chloasma spots - they are similar to sun spots in appearance but they are usually larger areas of skin.
Hyperpigmentation can also occur when the skin is subject to trauma or disease. Patients may see darkened skin after surgeries, or after severe acne and other skin conditions due to the way the skin repairs itself after injury.
RELATED: Treatments for sun spots
What causes hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces too much melanin. This usually happens for one of three reasons:
- Sun exposure
Melanin tries to protect the skin against sun damage by absorbing the energy from the UV rays. This results in the tanning of the skin. Sometimes extreme exposure will trigger an overproduction of skin cells which can group together forming sun spots which are darker than the natural skin tone.
- Hormonal changes
When the body experiences hormonal change, the oestrogen levels can fluctuate and stimulate melanocyte cells, which creates dark melasma spots on the skin. This is most commonly seen in pregnancy.
Any scarring on the skin can create a discoloration. Scarring can stimulate melanin production which makes the skin tone appear uneven, particularly in darker skin tones. Patients who have suffered with acne, eczema, injuries or surgeries can have scar tissue as a result of inflammation in the skin.
How to improve hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation can be avoided if the patient is able to remove the trigger cause of the discoloration. Protecting the skin from sun damage is the first solution for all skin types - use a high factor SPF and stay out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day.
If hyperpigmentation occurs due to hormonal changes, it can be possible to regulate oestrogen levels with certain types of medication. This can prevent further patches from appearing but it may not improve existing discolouration.
Some hormonal changes may also be temporary (as is the case with pregnancy) so the hyperpigmentation may need to be monitored over time to discover the true cause. Patients who have unexplained hyperpigmentation should always see a dermatologist to determine the cause and diagnose any other potential skin conditions.
If hyperpigmentation is already present from scarring or previous sun damage and does not fade away after hormone regulation, there are ways to improve and reduce the appearance on the skin.
RELATED: Sun spots
Treatments for hyperpigmentation
- Chemical peels are used to treat hyperpigmentation by removing the top layer of skin with a skin-appropriate acid.
- The darker areas will appear less visible because the newer skin underneath has not been affected by pigmentation.
- Patients may need multiple treatments depending on the shade of the patches.
- Chemical peels can be repeated regularly if hyperpigmentation reappears.
- Mesotherapy can help treat hyperpigmentation by renewing the top layer of skin to minimise the dark spots.
- Mesotherapy penetrates the skin with multiple tiny needles to encourage the natural production of new collagen.
- The treatment helps to promote healing and improve the appearance of the pigmentation.
- Patients may see results after one treatment but multiple sessions are usually required for the best results.
- Microneedling helps to minimise hyperpigmentation by penetrating the skin with multiple ‘micro’ needles.
- It works by producing new rejuvenated skin cells to make discolorations less visible.
- It typically penetrates further than Mesotherapy so may be suitable for darker spots.
- Patients may see results after the initial session, but repeated treatments are usually required every 4-6 weeks.
- PRP or Platelet Rich Plasma treatment is used to treat hyperpigmentation by stimulating tissue repair and creating rejuvenated skin.
- Sometimes known colloquially as the ‘vampire facelift’, PRP uses the patient’s own blood. The platelets in the blood are separated from red blood cells and then injected into the skin.
- The skin looks replenished and renewed, creating a more even skin tone with less discoloration.
- Usually 3-4 rounds of treatment is recommended for the best results.
These dermatological treatments work in different ways so it’s important to choose the right process for your skin needs. Book a free consultation with our team to discover which treatments are best for hyperpigmentation.