Body Hyperpigmentation: What Is It And Why Does It Happen?

Hyperpigmentation, or a condition where certain parts of the skin are noticeably darker than the rest, is a common issue for many. According to Medical News Today, hyperpigmentation may affect up to 33% of people. Melasma, a type of hyperpigmentation, affects about five million people in the U.S, a study in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives finds. The condition may manifest in the form of patches of brown or dark blue shades anywhere on the body, most notably on the underarms, inner thighs, or sun-exposed areas such as the knees, elbows, and cheeks.

Generally speaking, hyperpigmentation happens when your skin produces an excess of melanin, which is the pigment responsible for giving your skin its color. Therefore, people with darker skin are more vulnerable to hyperpigmentation because of the inherently high melanin content in their skin tone. While patchy skin darkening might not indicate any underlying medical condition, many want to lighten these areas for aesthetic reasons. The idea of having patches of skin of deeper hue can feel so unnatural and frightening to some people that they tend to seek out products containing bleaching agents in hope of evening out their skin, which may end up giving you side effects such as darker skin, lesions, and rashes. If you notice symptoms of hyperpigmentation on your body, here are some tips to identify the causes and seek treatment.

Causes of hyperpigmentation

According to Olay, hyperpigmentation is a result of various factors, including sun damage, chloasma or melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and medical conditions. Exposing your skin to the glaring UV rays unprotected for a long time can trigger hyperpigmentation in the form of age spots – characterized by flat, dark spots of various sizes on the skin. However, if the sunscreen you wear contains hormonally-active ingredients such as oxybenzone or certain chemical sunscreen that can cause hormonal imbalances, your skin can also be darkened just from wearing the formula regularly, ClearifiRx warns. Most dermatologists recommend physical sunscreen over chemical sunscreen because it perches atop the skin and reflects UV rays rather than absorbing and converting UV radiation to heat.

Hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy can cause patches of dark pigmentation on the face, commonly known as chloasma or melasma. If you have an inflammatory skin condition such as acne or eczema, your skin might also produce pigmented spots after your symptom clears up. Hyperpigmentation can also be a symptom of certain illnesses such as Addison's disease or lung cancer. Other factors that may be at work in your instance include heredity and anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication, both of which enhance your chances of developing hyperpigmentation. If you are uncertain about what causes hyperpigmentation, it is better to get expert assistance from your dermatologist. Once you've pinpointed the cause of your condition, it's time to get treatment.

How to treat hyperpigmentation

If your case is such that you need to see a dermatologist, bring records of your medical history and the drugs you've been using so your doctor can offer an accurate diagnosis and decide on the most suitable treatments for you. In case you've been diagnosed with hyperpigmentation, doctors may prescribe over-the-counter medication to lighten the dark spots. Some popular medications prescribed for mild hyperpigmentation include topical retinoids, azelaic acid, kojic acid, vitamins B and C, and chemical peels, per SkyMD. Aside from topical medications, you might also be recommended to explore in-clinic procedures, such as laser peels, IPL therapy, and microdermabrasion, for quicker results.

While treatments are available for hyperpigmentation, don't forget that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Since hyperpigmentation can occur in areas subjected to hair removal as a result of rubbing and ingrown hair scarring, you might want to explore options of laser hair removal or using a very sharp razor for shaving instead of pulling or plugging your skin with a tweezer, medical and cosmetic doctor Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe tells Harper's Bazaar. Applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher generously and consistently from head to toe before leaving the house and reapplying during the day is also critical to avoid sun damage and keep your skin healthy. In and of itself, hyperpigmentation is not a life-threatening condition, but it's better to nip it in the bud for your peace of mind.