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  • Writer's pictureAli Rislan

Hyperpigmentation: What, Why, How?

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

What is hyperpigmentation, why does it happen, and how can you treat it?


Are you wondering what hyperpigmentation is and what causes it? Would you like to know what you can do to treat it, and how you can prevent it in future?

In this article you'll discover the various types of pigmentation, what causes them, and how you can treat and avoid pigmentation in future. By the end of this article, you'll be able to decide on how you'd like to treat your pigmentation, and 3 steps to prevent it in future.


What is Hyperpigmentation?

Your skin's natural tone is determined by the level of melanin that your skin cells produce. The cells responsible are called melanocytes which live deep within your skin. We all have roughly the same number of melanocytes but our rate of melanin production differs; people with lighter skin tones produce less melanin, and people with darker skin tones produce more melanin.


These skin tones can be classified as skin types from types 1 to 6, as you can see below.

Hyper-pigmentation | A graphic showing the relationship between skin type, epidermal melanin, and UV sensitivity

This level of pigmentation is normally fairly consistent across your body, and your skin may fade naturally into lighter and darker tones. When you have sudden patches of skin that are darker than your natural skin tone, however, you are considered to have hyperpigmentation.


What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

The root cause of hyperpigmentation is your melanocytes producing more melanin than normal in a defined patch. But what causes your melanocytes to overproduce melanin? These are the 3 most common triggers and types of hyperpigmentation:

A photo of hyperpigmentation from sun damage
  • The most common cause of hyperpigmentation is sun damage, as it is the sun that triggers melanin production in your skin. Melanin protects your skin from the sun's harmful rays, and this is why people originating from hotter countries have darker skin. This type of pigmentation can begin deep under the skin and may only appear years after it has been produced.


A woman with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne
  • Injury or inflammation of the skin can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). This is commonly caused by acne or injuries to the skin such as cuts or burns.

Your melanocytes are "activated" under inflammatory conditions. This means that they will overproduce melanin in specific areas that are in an inflamed state.


Hyperpigmentation | A woman with melasma on the cheek
  • Melasma is another common type of hyperpigmentation, caused by hormonal changes or exposure to the sun's UV rays. Melasma most commonly occurs in pregnant women and it is believed that this is due to oestrogen, progesterone, and other melanocyte-stimulating hormones. This type of hyperpigmentation is incurable, but you can control it to significantly reduce its appearance.

How Can You Treat and Prevent Hyperpigmentation?

Treatment for hyperpigmentation usually consists of:

  • Reducing the production of melanin by melanocytes by using medications known as "Tyrosinase Inhibitors". Hydroquinone is the most commonly known example of this and can even be prescribed through the NHS for severe cases.

  • Bringing the pigmentation to the surface of the skin using peels or laser treatment. One of the most popular peels for this stage is the green peel which will also give you fresher and rejuvenated skin.

  • Breaking down the pigmentation once it is closer to the surface using a photoacoustic laser. The clearlift laser fragments melanin which is then cleared by the immune system.

Hyperpigmentation can be very hard to treat, however, and cases such as melasma are actually incurable. Therefore it's best to take precautions to prevent hyperpigmentation in the first place, especially in summer. Follow these 3 steps to prevent hyperpigmentation as much as possible:

  1. Never leave the house in the daytime without sun protection and reapply as instructed on the bottle, even if the sun isn't out!

  2. Wear a hat and long-sleeved clothing if you're going to be in direct sunlight

  3. Keep your skin hydrated; dry and dehydrated skin is much more likely to develop pigmentation. This includes drinking lots of water and using hydrating skin care products, such as hyaluronic acid serums.

You should now have a great idea of what hyperpigmentation is, what causes it, and how you can treat and prevent it. We understand however that you may want some advice tailored to your skin, and how you can manage your hyperpigmentation. Click the button below to book your free consultation with Dr Hala to find out what pigmentation you have and have a fully bespoke treatment and product plan created for you!




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