Hyperpigmentation - Dealing with Discolouration on Dark Skin

Hyperpigmentation is a catch all term for patchy darkening and discolouration of the visible skin due to an overproduction of melanin within the deeper dermal layers.

It is a frequent occurrence and also a typical complaint for darker skin tones. In a flash 24-hour social media poll, hyperpigmentation was listed as the number one skin complaint; almost 70% of respondents with skin of colour said it was their main concern over breakouts and spots.

 Image courtesy of DermNet NZ.

Image courtesy of DermNet NZ.

Even though hyperpigmentation is a naturally occurring function of skin, in the era of chasing flawless body perfection, it can be quite a distressing skin condition.
— Black Skin Directory

How does hyperpigmentation happen?

Regardless of the type of hyperpigmentation, it all manifests in the same way.  Melanocyte cells go into overdrive producing excess amounts of melanin to protect the skin from impending damage. This process is patchy and uneven resulting in uncontrolled discolouration of the skin, sometimes extending beyond the area of initial trauma.

Once darkened areas and patches have developed, unprotected sun exposure can exacerbate them making it a more challenging problem to treat. Hence the advice to always apply sunscreen to avoid the worsening of pigmentation issues.

 Causes of Hyperpigmentation

·      Cuts, bruises and burns can result in trauma to the skin that causes discolouration.

·      Skin diseases and conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and even acne can leave the skin patchy, darkened and scarred.

·      Harsh products and incorrect treatments can inflame the skin, resulting in post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

·      Genetics play a role as darker skin tones can be prone to ailments such as dark circles around the eyes.

·      Pregnancy increases the risk of skin discolouration, not only on the body but on the face and neck too. Usually referred to as the mask of pregnancy, changes in the levels of Oestrogen and Progesterone create a butterfly effect across the middle of the face. However, this discolouration tends to fade post pregnancy.

·      Contraceptive pills are synthetic hormones that can cause discolouration of the skin.

·      Sun damage is a massive contributory factor in creating discolouration and also worsening existing hyperpigmentation. UVA and UVB rays stimulate excess melanin production in the skin, especially in the lower layers of the skin where it is more challenging to treat.

·      Illnesses such as Addison’s Disease and thyroid complaints can cause diffused hyperpigmentation on the body. In the same vein, certain types of drugs can induce hyperpigmentation. Anti-malarial and anti psychotic medications amongst others can also cause changes in skin colour.

Is Melasma also hyperpigmentation?

Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation most commonly affecting people of colour, especially women. Facial skin develops patches of pigmentation varying from light to dark brown or even grey toned. It tends to affect both sides of the face in a symmetrical manner covering the cheeks, forehead, nose and upper lips and worsens in the summer months due to increased sunshine. Stress, perfumed products and hormonal changes can also trigger melasma.

 Image courtesy of DermNet NZ.

Image courtesy of DermNet NZ.

Apart from avoiding the triggers, there is no cure for Melasma currently and it can only be managed through a combination of treatments like laser therapy and prescribed skin lightening topical creams containing hydroquinone, corticosteroid and/or retinoids.

Is it possible to avoid hyperpigmentation?

Sadly, hyperpigmentation isn’t completely avoidable, but there are many ways to reduce its the impact and appearance of your skin.

Include a twice daily serum with key actives like Liquorice Root Extract, Niacinamide and Vitamin C in your skincare regimen to combat skin discolouration.
— BSD Top Tip

For starters, UVA/UVB rays are one of the direct causes of hyperpigmentation so taking adequate steps to protect skin from the sun is crucial. Dermatologists and skin specialists worldwide are agreed that a minimum of SPF3O is adequate for all skin tones.

Adopting an appropriate skin care routine with ingredients and techniques, tailored specifically to your skin type will also go a long way in minimising the chance of the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that comes with scarring and skin damage. Likewise, including professional treatments in your skincare regimen will help to control excess pigmentation. Treatments involving superficial chemical peels, microdermabrasion and or laser are particularly helpful, as is prescribed Hydroquinone.

Additionally, including certain types of ingredients in your daily topical skincare products helps to control skin pigmentation. To put it simply, before there is melanin, there is an enzyme called Tyrosine. If this enzyme can be controlled or inhibited, then it is possible to make a marked difference to the frequency and appearance of hyperpigmentation.

Tyrosinase Inhibitors, such as Kojic Acid, Bearberry, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Liquorice Root Extract, often referred to as anti pigmentation ingredients will act as suppressors and skin brighteners to actively stop the tyrosine enzyme from producing extra melanin.

For most people, occasional skin discolouration is a fact of life, but using a combination of topical products, advanced treatments and even make up, skin clarity can be improved for better quality of life.