Skin Concerns

Hyperpigmentation…  And Hormones.  Yes, They’re Connected.

Written by Dahvi Shira

Started to notice brown or gray patches showing on your face?  Did it seem to come suddenly or seemingly out of nowhere –  Perhaps even without much sun time?  

For starters, we know how frustrating this skin issue can be.  But secondly, don’t feel alone, because it’s more common than it seems.  This discoloration is known as hyperpigmentation, specifically melasma, and often comes after pregnancy, hormone changes, or simply, just because of genetics.

When female sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, become imbalanced the overproduction of melanin can occur, which leads to dark spots showing up on the complexion. 

Experts aren’t sure what causes hyperpigmentation, but the following holds true:

  • Areas of the body exposed to the sun are more likely to develop melasma
  • Women of reproductive age are most likely to be affected.
  • Melasma commonly occurs during pregnancy
  • People with darker skin are more prone to developing melasma
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Birth Control, Pregnancy + Skin Changes

Pregnancy and hyperpigmentation often go hand-in-hand, but in 10-15% of cases, the hyperpigmentation that follows pregnancy can develop into hormonal melasma. 

When hyperpigmentation begins to occur, these dark patches can show on areas of the face like cheeks, forehead, and the upper lip.  This discoloration can start to happen when taking birth control and/or during pregnancy, as it’s thought to be directly correlated with the hormone, estrogen.

Estrogen interferes with how we produce melanin, so when estrogen levels increase during pregnancy, or during intake of birth control, this then causes melanin in the skin to also increase.

Specifically during pregnancy, pigmentation in the skin can change, which is not always specifically melasma.  Because when women are pregnant in general.  they tend to see parts of their body get darker. The abdomen appears darker, which sometimes you’ll see in the form of a line from the belly button down. The underarms and neck can also get darker during this transition period.

Thankfully (whew!), as soon as the baby is born, the pigmentation typically returns to normal.  For the few whose spots remain, it can unfortunately be difficult to treat, just like other forms of hyperpigmentation.

However, not all hope is lost.  By starting to implement gentle, yet effective, skincare products designed for brightening, the appearance of these stubborn dark spots can be reduced.  Our YSE Beauty Morning Cocktail Vitamin C Serum, for example, is a great place to start, followed by our Problem Solver Brightening Treatment, which directly works to reduce discoloration and target those dark spots.

Oral Contraceptives + Hyperpigmentation

\We all know birth control can be challenging, especially when it comes to finding the right one for you.  Some side effects can be more mood swings, heightened emotions and weight fluctuation, but another side effect from this hormone imbalance can be melasma.

About 10-25% of women who take oral contraceptives can develop melasma, due to the increased levels of estrogen in the body.  However, the same can be true for progesterone, another hormone common in oral contraceptives, that can lead to melanin overproduction.

However, if you start to notice this occurring, we always recommend talking to your physician about other options.  There’s lots of other birth control brands on the market to test, or more recent methods of natural ways that can be good alternatives.  It’s all on a case-by-case basis, as everyone’s bodies are different, which is why we recommend talking to your doctor first.

Other Hyperpigmentation Causes

Is melasma hormonal only?  While the condition often goes hand-in-hand with hormones, there are actually a handful of other ways it’s caused.  For example, sun exposure and genetics can both be risk factors to causing melasma.

We’ve also seen some cases of hyperpigmentation around the mouth, which can be caused by weather conditions, UV exposure, side effects from certain medications or injury.  And in more severe cases, it can be caused by melanoma, endocrine disorders or diabetes.

With the exception of pregnancy, many cases of lip hyperpigmentation can be prevented, as it’s often caused by smoking, excessive exposure to sunlight and a reaction to certain medications. 

If you’ve ever experienced melasma-induced pigmentation, you might have seen it appear on the bridge of the nose, as this is a common location.  If pigmentation is towards the tip of the nose, it could be from side effects of certain medications, or in more serious cases, due to the inflammation of cells (sarcoidosis). 

Body folds, such as the neck and armpits, are another region highly susceptible to discoloration.   Hyperpigmentation of the skin can appear dark brown to black, with or without skin tags. 

And we don’t know about you, but we’ve had some serious dark circles under our eyes at some point. This form of hyperpigmentation is often caused by lack of sleep, stress, sinus infections, skin eczema, anemia or dermatitis.

Whether or not you feel like your hyperpigmentation is a sign of something more serious, it’s worth a trip to the doctor to sort out the issue and see what you can do to resolve it. 

Understand the Underlying Hyperpigmentation Causes

Now that we’ve shared greater insight into various types of hyperpigmentation, and where it can be found on the body, let’s get into what really causes this unappealing discoloration.

We briefly touched above on melasma’s hormonal causes and its commonality among pregnant women.  As a result of this hormonal imbalance, estrogen and progesterone levels increase, causing an overproduction of melanin, especially when the skin is under direct exposure to bright sunlight. 

If you seek treatment for the condition, it’s important to identify its exact cause to get the most effective results.  Luckily, regardless of the treatment you need, there are plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine options. Some include skin-lightening or whitening creams, retinol (derived from vitamin A) and facial peels. 

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Hyperpigmentation Solves

Does hormonal melasma go away? To drive home the point we made earlier, melasma during pregnancy is (usually) not a reason for long term concern. It typically dissipates naturally as hormonal levels return to normal.  However, if it doesn’t, skincare can come as your solution.

When oral contraceptives are the cause, the condition generally clears up when you stop taking the medication. 

In cases where you need to keep taking oral contraceptives, or the melasma is due to pregnancy or post-pregnancy, there are other treatments. Some of them include:

  • Skincare creams, lotions, gels, or liquids containing tretinoin and corticosteroids

  • Skincare products containing tranexamic acid and niacinamide like our Problem Solver and Vitamin C serum to brighten the skin + target dark spots

  • Prescription medications that can help lighten your skin, like Tretinoin Azelaic and Kojic Acid

  • Chemical peels, microdermabrasion and dermabrasion, performed by your dermatologist

  • In other cases, laser treatments or other light-based services might be an option if the discoloration proves to be highly stubborn.

However, some natural remedies could be a good starter for the spots that slowly start appearing – try tea tree oil, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, aloe vera, argan oil or coconut oil. These natural ingredients can help with hyperpigmentation, but make sure to double check how to use them properly on your skin, and avoid ingredients you may be allergic to.

Whatever the type of hyperpigmentation, it’s important to discuss all treatments with your dermatologist.  And as disheartening as it might feel to see those dark spots in the mirror, there are plenty of solutions on the market that can help diminish those spots enough to say goodbye.