Skin Types

The 411 on Everything You Need Know About Hyperpigmentation

Written by Dahvi Shira

Dark spots, oh my! They’re not moles or freckles—they’re these annoying little patches that appear a deeper shade than your normal skin tone. This is what you’d call hyperpigmentation, a skin pigmentation that can affect any skin type. It’s more common during pregnancy, with older age or after an injury, and it can occur anywhere on the body.

These unwanted marks are definitely a nuisance, but they aren’t necessarily reason for concern (except when it comes to reaching for the concealer). That said, if they show up seemingly out of nowhere, it’s smart to get them checked out in case they’re indicative of something more serious.

Regardless of the cause, it’s important to understand how hyperpigmentation develops, how to get rid of it and how it differs from other similar skin conditions. Keep reading for all of your questions answered, along with what symptoms to look out for. 

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. When it comes to what causes hyperpigmentation, there are a number of variables. Below, we break down what most commonly leads to the issue.

Sun Exposure

The overproduction of melanin is a cause of hyperpigmentation, and this is especially common with sun exposure. When the skin stays out in the sun for too long, the body produces more melanin to protect it. This can cause dark spots or patches on the skin called age spots or sun spots.

Skin Inflammation

If you’ve suffered from a skin condition like acne, eczema, lupus, or a skin injury caused by falling off a bike, for example, these can all lead to post-inflammatory scarring (hyperpigmentation). People with darker skin are more likely to develop these permanent marks.

Hormone Fluctuations

Hormones have so much control over us. From our moods, to our skin to pretty much anything else relating to our body, when our hormones fluctuate, we immediately react. For example, when our hormones change during pregnancy, we often see dark patches suddenly come to our skin’s surface. 

Medication Reactions

When they say “check with your doctor first,” they're not kidding. Everyone reacts differently to medication (both over-the-counter and prescription). Certain medications in particular (antimalarial drugs and tricyclic antidepressants) have caused hyperpigmentation. In these cases, patches of skin may turn gray. Additionally, chemicals in topical treatments can also sometimes cause hyperpigmentation.

Medical Conditions

While these are more rare, medical conditions including Addison’s disease and hemochromatosis can lead to more serious hyperpigmentation. Addison’s disease affects the adrenal glands, and hemochromatosis is an inherited condition that causes the body to hold too much iron. Hyperpigmentation can occur when iron levels are 5 times higher than usual.

Common Symptoms

So, how do you know if you have hyperpigmentation, versus a freckle or mole, for example? While these unwanted marks are typically brown or black, the discoloration that stems from hyperpigmentation is seen after inflammation or injury on the skin. And discolored patches turn darker after sun exposure.

While most cases of hyperpigmentation are nuisances more than anything else, if you start seeing raised dark patches growing in size, you should consult your dermatologist for further diagnosis and treatment. 

The Diagnosis

Unlike more serious diagnoses, getting checked out for hyperpigmentation is typically an uninvasive experience. The objective is for your doctor to identify the type, cause and treatment of the issue.

Diagnosis typically begins by examining the skin with a special ultraviolet Wood’s light, followed by gathering info about medical history and asking about what could have led to potential hyperpigmentation (ie. sun exposure frequency and other lifestyle habits). In some cases, but not frequently, your doctor might take a biopsy or small sample of skin, to help rule out skin cancer. Regardless of your particular situation, the doctor will then make a treatment plan to suit your needs.

How to Treat

Hyperpigmentation treatment comes in a handful of forms. What’s right for you depends on your type of hyperpigmentation and the advice of your health care practitioner. The following over-the-counter medicines, chemical treatments and home remedies are available:

OTC Medicines

When diving into how to treat hyperpigmentation, it’s pretty common for doctors to prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) medication. These medicines can also be acquired without prescriptions, as they’re primarily created to lighten the dark spots. 

Topical retinoids are among skincare formulas designed to treat hyperpigmentation. These are vitamin A derivatives. Both topical retinoids and hydroquinone are effective, but work gradually over a period of time to make a noticeable difference on hyperpigmentation. These should be avoided, however, if you’re pregnant or lactating. And if used incorrectly, they can have a wide range of adverse effects. 

For something on the gentler-yet-still-effective side, azelaic acid is a non-irritating depigmenting agent used if hyperpigmentation is caused due to inflammation and severe acne. It’s also one of the safest agents. Our YSE Beauty Morning Cocktail is truly the ultimate azelaic acid skincare combo. It also consists of three stabilized Vitamin C forms, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and squalane.

 YSE Beauty

Other treatments include vitamin C or ascorbic acid, and Niacinamide, which is a derivative of vitamin B3 and also regulates collagen production in the skin, making it supple and elastic. And who can forget about our understated savior, tranexamic acid—a hero ingredient that helps fade dark spots and works to even out skin tone. You can find the powerful active in our YSE Beauty Problem Solver Brightening Treatment.

 YSE Beauty

Chemical Treatments

If you’re seeking a quicker approach to a traditional skincare routine, doctors often recommend chemical procedures in the form of peels. While these can get pretty spendy and often require more than just one treatment, they’re known to be effective because they peel away or remove hyperpigmented skin, allowing the healthier skin beneath to take its place. Laser therapy is another popular in-office option when tackling how to fix hyperpigmentation. This is even more effective when combined with topical therapy. It requires multiple sittings and gives visible results quicker.

Home Remedies 

Whether you’re looking to cut costs or you don’t believe in lasers and chemical treatments, lucky you—there are home remedies involving herbs and natural ingredients that are said to be effective. It’s important to note, however, that these are recommended for mild hyperpigmentation and they’re not backed by science.  

Again, if you have severe hyperpigmentation or you suffer from medical conditions, these may not work for you. Now that we have that out of the way, aloe vera gel, licorice root extract and green tea have all been said to lighten dark spots. 

Hyperpigmentation is common...

If you spot unwanted dark spots on your skin, rest assured you’re not alone. Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that can occur for many reasons. Age spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are all forms of this not-so-fun skin condition. The good news is it’s a nuisance more than anything—it doesn’t typically cause actual harm. That said, people often choose to remove or reduce it, and that comes in the forms of avoiding sun exposure and using cosmetic treatments, hyperpigmentation cream and home remedies. If a person notices other symptoms alongside hyperpigmentation, they should seek advice from a doctor.