Hyperpigmentation, The Skin Menace: Causes, Types and Treatment

Hyperpigmentation is an uneven skin pigmentation that is commonly known as dark spots.

Plastic Surgeon, Melissa Doft, M.D. says, “Dark spots or hyperpigmentation are due to the overproduction of melanin in the skin by melanocytes”

Dark spots are common skin problems that may be due to an underlying health issue or an external cause. They appear as age spots, sun spots, or dark patches on different parts of the body that have been regularly exposed to the sun.

Uneven skin tone can be a problem for many women. And, some may choose to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons. These skin patches can vary in shades from light brown to dark brown depending on a person’s skin tone.

Most importantly, hyperpigmentation is not a cause for alarm and it often fades over time with or without treatment. Certainly, they can be annoying and damaging to your self-esteem but they are harmless.

However, if they linger for too long, it could be a symptom of a medical condition.

Here’s some vital information about those spots that cause you to worry.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

what is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation may not necessarily be a condition but as a term, it describes parts of the skin that appear darker. These darker skin parts could be small patches or large areas.

Melanin is the brown pigment responsible for giving the skin its dark color. So, when the skin produces more melanin than normal, the excess forms deposit in the skin and appear as dark patches.

Moreover, these patches appear on different parts of the body like the face, neck, hands, and arms. These body parts are the areas that are frequently exposed to the sun’s UV rays.

Also, they affect people of any race but people with darker skin are more susceptible to getting dark spots.

Here’s how it works. Your skin naturally produces melanin, and when hormones or trauma trigger a melanin increase, you become more susceptible to hyperpigmentation.

Causes of Hyperpigmentation

These dark spots are commonly caused by an excessive production of melanin which is produced by skin cells called melanocytes. Different conditions can cause this alteration in melanin production.

Melanin spike can be triggered by:

Exposure to the sun’s UV

Melanin is naturally produced to protect the skin from the dangers of exposure to the sun. However, prolonged exposure disrupts the protection process and results in dark spots or patches on the skin called sun spots.

This is why there is more breakout of dark spots after summer. Commonly affected body parts are the hands and face.


Some pregnant women experience changes in hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal changes, in turn, affect the production of melanin in these women. As a result, dark patches appear on their skin.


The use of chemotherapy drugs can have hyperpigmentation as a side effect. Other medications like certain antimalarial drugs and tricyclic antidepressants can also cause uneven skin tone.

In these cases, the melanin increase will result in gray skin patches. Some topical treatments as well contain chemicals that can also cause uneven skin tone.

Medical conditions

Addison’s disease is a rare adrenal gland disorder that can cause an increase in melanin production. This endocrine disease causes an increased level of the hormone that triggers melanin synthesis.

Hyperpigmentation from Addison’s disease appears in certain areas of the body like areas of skin folds, lips, elbows or knees, knuckles, toes, or inside the cheeks.

Another medical condition that causes uneven skin tone is Hemochromatosis, an inherited medical condition that is characterized by too much iron in the body.

Other medical conditions include inflammatory diseases, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and obesity. 

Some other factors that can predispose you to hyperpigmentation include allergies, chemical or physical injury, tobacco smoking, aging, and repeated contact with certain cosmetic products.

Types of Hyperpigmentation

types of hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation can occur in different forms. These forms are classified by the affected areas and causes. Although there are several types, these three are most common;

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)

This type of dark spot appears as a result of injury or inflammation to the skin tone. Inflammations could be in the form of skin acne or eczema; injuries could be cuts or bruises. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation usually appears on the face or the neck.

Hope Mitchell says, “The best way to think about post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH, is that anyone with any type of skin color will get it. There is no way to avoid it.”

Acne sufferers and women who have gone through certain cosmetic procedures such as dermabrasion, laser treatment, and chemical peels are more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Moreover, after the skin has been healed of these injuries or inflammation, the skin areas are left darkened or discolored.

Learn More: Best Acne Treatment

Sun spots or age spots

Sun spots or age spots are the most common type of hyperpigmentation. Doctors often call it solar lentigines. Age spots are caused by excess exposure to sun UV rays. Sun spots may appear on the skin as tan, brown or black spots.

Age spots are commonly found in the face and hands or any area that has been exposed to sunlight. Older adults are the most prone population to age spots.


Melasma could almost be mistaken for age spots but they are quite different. They are larger areas of darkened skin that are often a result of hormonal changes.

During pregnancy, some women get pregnancy masks on their faces or abdomens due to the changes in hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Also, women who take birth control pills can get melasma because their bodies experience similar hormonal changes during pregnancy. Experts from the American College of Osteopathic Dermatology say melasma has also been linked to the use of oral contraceptives.

Common areas affected by melasma are the face and the stomach.

In addition, people with darker skin can also have melasma.

Treatment of Hyperpigmentation

acne treatment

Although hyperpigmentation is not a problem in itself, it’s okay to be bothered and seek treatment. You can see a dermatologist who will diagnose the cause and type of your hyperpigmentation.

After that, you will get prescriptions on the type of treatment to use.

Treatment of hyperpigmentation can be through cosmetic procedures, using topical treatments, or home remedies.

Most importantly, you want those dark spots off your face.

1. Cosmetic Procedures for Hyperpigmentation

Certain cosmetic procedures can lighten the dark areas of your skin to reduce the appearance of dark spots. However, if you’re considering any of these procedures, you should consult with a skin specialist or a dermatologist to discuss the process and possible side effects.

These procedures include:

Laser therapy

Laser therapy can also be called skin resurfacing. This procedure works by targeting beams of light on affected areas to correct uneven skin tone. 

Lasers can either be ablative or non-ablative. Ablative lasers involve the removal of layers of your skin. Instead of removing layers of your skin, non-ablative lasers target the dermis to stimulate collagen production. 

Most importantly, consult with a dermatologist before opting for laser therapy.

Chemical peels

The chemical peels procedure uses strong concentrated acids to remove the epidermis, reducing the appearance of dark spots. Some types of this procedure may go down to the dermis and work faster. 

Acids like salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid are great options for chemical peels procedures.

In addition, chemical peels can be harsh especially on sensitive skin. So, the need to see the dermatologist should not be overlooked.


Microdermabrasion removes the uppermost superficial layer of your skin. Milder hyperpigmentation can be treated with a microdermabrasion procedure. This exfoliating treatment uses tiny particles to remove dead skin.

During the procedure, a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush and other abrasives is swiped across your skin. You should however note that you must see a dermatologist first before choosing to go through microdermabrasion.


This is extended microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion removes just the dermis of the skin. Dermabrasion, on the other hand, removes the epidermis and continues down to the dermis.

2. Topical Treatments for Hyperpigmentation

Topical treatments are usually creams. They are applied over the dark spots to make them clear off. Lightening creams, for instance, contain ingredients like hydroquinone, licorice extract, and vitamin C which are responsible for increasing pigmentation.


This is one of the most effective topical treatments for dark spots. Hydroquinone is a key ingredient in many effective topical creams for getting dark spots off the skin. Hydroquinone works by reducing the activity of tyrosinase. As a result, melanin production is regulated.

Ebanel Dark Spot Remover for Face 2% Hydroquinone Serum, for instance, contains hydroquinone and other substances that fade the dark spots caused by melanin increase.

Vitamin C

This is an antioxidant that lightens dark spots through an enzyme inhibition process. Vitamin C combats free radical damage and boosts collagen production

The Ordinary Vitamin C Serum is a powdered L-ascorbic acid suspension that will help brighten your skin and fade discoloration.

Licorice extract

Licorice roots are natural skin lighteners. The constituent components work together to inhibit the synthesis of the tyrosinase enzyme. They work to reduce collagen loss and improve the skin’s ability to absorb other ingredients. 

Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel clears off the lingering patch that forms after pimples are gone.

3. Home Remedies for Hyperpigmentation

Home remedies for dark spots include:

Apple cider vinegar

  • Mix equal parts of apple cider vinegar and water in a container.
  • Apply the solution to your dark patches and leave for two to three minutes.
  • Afterward, rinse off using lukewarm water.
  • You can repeat this procedure twice daily for you to achieve your desired results.

Aloe vera

  • Cut aloe Vera into two and apply the pure aloe vera gel to the pigmented areas before bedtime.
  • Rinse those areas using warm water the next morning.
  • Feel free to repeat this process daily until your skin color improves.

Black tea

  • Add a tablespoon of fresh black tea leaves to a cup of boiling water.
  • Allow it to steep for two hours and strain to remove the leaves.
  • Soak a cotton ball in the tea water and swipe across the areas of hyperpigmentation, twice a day.
  • Repeat this process every day for six days a week, over four weeks.
what is hyperpigmentation?

FAQs on Hyperpigmentation

Do hyperpigmentation scars go away?

Hyperpigmentation scars may fade.

Acne is the most prevalent cause of dark spots and when the blemish goes away, it leaves dark spots. The fading away of the spots could be slow, depending on how deep the initial spots were.

Although some topical treatments and surgical procedures can speed up the fading process, it may take a long while to completely disappear. However, some scars may be permanent.

Why do I have hyperpigmentation on my lips?

Uneven skin tone can be found anywhere on the body especially the face. This discoloration around the mouth area is not a cause for alarm.

The increase in melanin production due to prolonged exposure to the sun UV or during pregnancy could be responsible for this discoloration. Also, if you skip applying sunscreen on your lips, it could be exposing them to hyperpigmentation.

Why does hyperpigmentation keep coming back?

Exposure to sunlight and frequent inflammation breakouts are the major causes of uneven skin tone. Pregnancy and using contraceptives can also these patches. So, if after a period of treatment, you go back to these practices, you become exposed to hyperpigmentation again.

How can I prevent hyperpigmentation?

You can prevent first time and further breakouts on your skin if you do the following:

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to the skin. 
  • Apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30, even in cooler months.
  • Do not pick at your skin especially when you have acne and injuries.


Skin problems are very common conditions and help will continually be sought to deal with them. Hyperpigmentation can appear on the skin for various reasons but it is harmless and may not be the result of a medical condition.

But, for cosmetic purposes, some women will do anything to clear off the dark spots.

Different removal techniques like cosmetic treatments, topical treatments, and home remedies can help you get rid of these dark spots.

Most importantly, a dermatologist or doctor should prescribe a treatment method for you.

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