What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation happens when the body produces too much melanin in the skin due to hormonal, inflammatory or external factors like sun exposure. It presents itself as darker patches on the skin of the face, arms, hands and chest. Mostly areas exposed to frequent sunlight.
Melanin is our natural sunscreen. It is the reason our skin becomes darker when we spend time in the sun.
In some cases, the body will produce melanin in response to inflammation and swelling or when our hormone levels become unbalanced.
You should be using sunscreen religiously. Any sun exposure can make your hyperpigmentation darker and more difficult to treat successfully. Cover up with a hat when you are outside even if you are wearing sunscreen. You should try to use a day cream and foundation that includes at least SOME SPF as well.
What causes Hyperpigmentation?
There are generally three main types of hyperpigmentation:
- Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation:
It is usually referred to as Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation and is a result of scarring left behind by acne, surgery, injury and botched dermatological procedures such as incorrect use of chemical peels.Acne is the main cause of inflammatory hyperpigmentation due to the swelling and inflammation associated with the infection. Repeated irritation as a result of squeezing or picking causes even more redness and swelling than the infection alone. This irritation causes overproduction of melanin in the affected area. Acne scars are usually red and swollen and later become flat, brown patches on the skin. If the damage reaches underlying tissues it can also cause “pitting” or hard bumps under the skin.
- Hormonal Hyperpigmentation:
Usually known as Melasma or Chloasma. It is caused by hormonal changes in the body due to pregnancy, IUD’s for birth control, photosensitising medication for mental health issues, thyroid dysfunction and stress. Some women also experience an increase in pigmentation during hormone replacement therapy.Hyperpigmentation associated with pregnancy is usually referred to as ” The mask of pregnancy” and will begin to fade within weeks of giving birth in most cases.
Hormonal hyperpigmentation generally presents as flat, darkened patches on the cheeks, chin, forehead and chest.
- Sun Exposure Hyperpigmentation:
Caused by unprotected and prolonged exposure to harmful UV rays.Sunlight triggers the production of melanin in the body to act as natural sun protection when we are exposed to UV rays.
With sun exposure hyperpigmentation it is also related to the amount of collagen and elastin in the skin. They are proteins responsible for the elasticity, tone and texture of skin. Age, diet and hormones, skin treatments and overall health directly affect the condition of these proteins.
Hyperpigmentation will present as “sun spots”. Flat brown patches on the skin, uneven skin tone and more severe signs of ageing such as fine lines and wrinkles. It can also be accompanied by dry patches on the skin surface.
Most of us will develop sun spots on our faces, chest, arms and hands as we age if we are not careful about using sunscreen or covering up.
What are your natural options?
There are lots of lovely treatments that you can whip up in your kitchen to help you fade dark spots and pigmentation. Some of them are as simple as dabbing a little lemon juice on a sunspot once a day to fade the pigmentation and others are masks or scrubs that help to exfoliate away the damaged layers of skin.
Here are some of the ingredients you can use:
Citric acid “bleaches” the skin and will lighten dark spots over time. Lemons are also packed with Vitamin C which is an antioxidant and helps to repair damage caused by free radicals.
For small areas: Apply a little lemon juice to the dark spot with a cotton bud once or twice a day. If pure lemon juice alone is too strong, add a few drops of water before you apply it.
To even out larger areas and fight spots:
1 tsp lemon juice – to fade spots
1 tsp honey – to reduce the inflammation and kill bacteria
2 tbsp oats – to calm the skin
You can add a little water to thin the mix and make it into a paste. Apply and leave on for 20 minutes. Rinse with warm water. Avoid the eye area.
If you have active acne: take one teaspoon of honey with a few drops of lemon juice and apply it to the affected area if you don’t feel like doing a full face mask.
Lactic acid dissolves dead skin cells. This can help your scarring by removing the darkened outer layers to naturally fade the scar. You can simply apply a tablespoon of yoghurt to your skin, leave it on for 15 minutes and remove with a warm washcloth to reveal smoother, brighter skin.
To fight active acne you can add turmeric and honey to soothe inflammation and kill bacteria.
For a more intensive mask:
1 tsp turmeric – fights inflammation
1 tsp honey – kills bacteria
1 tsp lemon juice – fades dark spots
1 tbsp yoghurt – removes dead skin cells
2 tbsp rice flour (or oats) – soothes and brightens the skin
Apple Cider Vinegar
The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar helps to fade hyperpigmentation by removing dead skin cells while balancing the skin’s PH and reducing inflammation.
Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 tablespoon of water. Apply it to your skin with a cotton pad and leave to dry for 15 to 20 minutes. You can then use a warm flannel to gently “scrub” your skin and remove the mixture.
You can apply raw honey to your skin as a simple treatment to gently moisturise your skin and dissolve dead skin cells to reveal the brighter skin underneath.
This bright orange fruit contains an enzyme called papain that simply exfoliates the skin to remove dead skin cells. It’s like a natural chemical peel.
You can simply cut a block or two of papaya and run it over your whole face (avoiding the eye area). Leave the juice on your skin for 5 to 10 minutes and wipe away with a warm flannel. Splash your skin with cool water afterwards.
We all know that aloe vera helps with sunburn and minor skin irritation but it also helps to fade hyperpigmentation by encouraging cell turnover and the production of collagen.
Because of it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties it helps to reduce the inflammation and swelling associated with active acne. Swelling and inflammation cause the overproduction of melanin so it helps to prevent further scarring and pigmentation.
Many health stores now sell pure aloe vera gel that can be applied to your skin directly as a moisturiser.
This one has been used in Asia to brighten skin for centuries. Rice flour contains Allantoin which is an antioxidant that helps to repair damaged skin. It also contains an enzyme called Tyrosinase that inhibits the production of melanin.
You can make a simple paste out of rice flour and warm water and apply it to your skin. It works as an exfoliator because it is very fine and gently removes dead skin cells. You can leave it on to dry for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse away with warm water.
What are your drugstore options?
There are many topical skin lightening options in the drugstore. I am not going to cover specific products because there are many but I will give you an idea of what to look for.
Topical lightening products are usually in a cream or gel form and can be marketed as “brightening” or “whitening” or “anti-pigmentation” products. Most anti-ageing products contain at least one anti-pigmentation product because hormonal changes later in life can cause hyperpigmentation or “liver-spots”.
Combined with very strict sunscreen use they can usually fade dark spots or uneven patches within a few months but they are only effective if you avoid sun exposure at all costs. One day of unprotected sun exposure can wipe out weeks of treatment.
Some ingredients to look for include:
- kojic acid
- vitamin C
- alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA)
- glycolic or salicylic acid
- acetic acid
- citric acid or lemon extracts
- papain or papaya extracts
I have had very good results with alpha-arbutin in combination with natural treatments. I have a combination of acne and hormonal pigmentation and because I have been strict about applying my products and sunscreen I have faded them significantly.
What are your professional options?
There are several treatments available that should be administered by professional technicians. It is best to consult your dermatologist. With all these, there is a risk of damaging your skin even further or darkening your pigmentation even more.
- IPL: Intense Pulse Light Facial (Also Known as a Photo Facial)
Pulses of light are used to deeply penetrate the skin and stimulate collagen and blood vessels to constrict. This reduces redness, texture and wrinkles.Discomfort should be minimal. Redness and swelling should disappear within days and the effects of the treatment will gradually increase in the weeks following your appointment.
IPL is most effective on people with light, untanned skin with minimal damage from sun exposure and acne scarring.
If you have darker skin or a lot of sun and acne damage you should consult a dermatologist before going for a Photo Facial because the treatment can actually cause darker scarring to develop.
- Chemical Peels
They work to remove the outer layers of damaged skin. Depending on the depth of scarring and pigmentation you will need several treatments over time. Most treatments are in batches of 3 to 6 appointments.Several different acids are used to remove the affected layers of skin including salicylic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, glycolic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid or alpha hydroxy acid among others.
Definitely, check with your dermatologist which of these would work with your specific skin and pigmentation combination.
- Laser Peels
These treatments should always be done by a qualified technician recommended by your dermatologist.There are two kinds of laser treatments:
The Ablative or “wounding” laser removes thin layers of skin.
The Non-ablative or “non-wounding” laser stimulates collagen growth to improve the texture and firmness of the skin.
Because laser peels can actually make scarring worse in certain individuals it is not recommended if:
– you have active acne
– you are on acne medication
– you have a weak immune system
– you are prone to excessive scarring
– you have darker skin
This is a serious treatment that can have many side effects and should always be done by a certified professional.
I hope that you find these options helpful in the fight against dark patches and scarring. To effectively treat your hyperpigmentation you should be very strict with your skincare regime and keep your sun exposure to the absolute minimum. You can fade the damage over time but it will come back if you don’t take care of it.
Good luck and happy brightening!