Regardless of what caused your skin to become uneven in tone, the slightest bit of sun exposure (mere minutes in the sun can be enough for some) can trigger the skin to kick melanin production into overdrive. That’s why wearing sunscreen daily is imperative, as well as a topical skin-care product, like hydroquinone or kojic acid, that stops the pigment-producing message from being delivered.
Surface Pigmentation vs. Deep Pigmentation
Where hyperpigmentation lives in the skin determines how dark the skin will be. When pigmentation is on the surface, the discoloration is more of a light brown color and is more diffused. It also responds better to nonablative fractional lasers. Pigmentation deep within skin takes on more of a dark brown or gray tone and is solid and dense. “Deep pigmentation is harder to treat because it’s more resilient and can come back easily,” says San Francisco dermatologist Vic Narurkar, MD. “That’s why we use the stronger products for this type of pigmentation as opposed to over-the-counter brightening creams and lotions, which work better for hyperpigmentation on the surface.”
Skin Color Matters
Hyperpigmentation can affect all skin tones—but it runs rampant in those with darker skin. The reason: the darker the skin, the more active the melanocytes are because of naturally high melanin levels. “The cause of it doesn’t influence the severity of your discoloration but the severity of your hyperpigmentation is shaped by your skin tone,” says Washington, D.C., dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD. Hyperpigmentation can affect lighter skin (the discoloration is usually pink or red), but it is more prevalent in those with darker skin who are of Asian, Mediterranean or African decent, especially when the skin is exposed to the sun.
What Happens to Untreated Pigment?
Hyperpigmentation is more of a cosmetic problem than a skin health condition according to Dr. Narurkar. In most cases, hyperpigmentation will eventually resolve on its own if it is not treated. “But, the question is, how long it will take to lighten up? There’s no way to know and a lot of people just don’t want to deal with discoloration because makeup can hide it so much.” If your skin is prone to pigmentation, always take preventative measures, especially with sunscreen. Minneapolis, MN, dermatologist Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, points out that failing to protect pigmented skin from the sun can cause discolored areas to become even more pigmented.
Safeguard Your Skin
No matter what your skin type and color are, sunscreen needs to be worn by everyone every day. Those with hyperpigmentation can’t afford to forgo protection. “The single most important component for treating hyperpigmentation is photoprotection,” says Miami dermatologist Flor A. Mayoral, MD. “You must be consistent in using sunscreen and reapply it often if the affected area is going to be exposed to ultraviolet rays.”
1. Use Sunscreen With at Least an SPF of 30
“Broad-spectrum sun protection is the best, and most important thing you can do to protect your skin from hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Narurkar. Make sure your sunscreen protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
2. Load up on Antioxidants
Acne is known to cause spots and discoloration, but a good serum that’s loaded with antioxidants can actually help prevent breakouts and inflammation, limiting the risk of hyperpigmentation, too.
3. Protect your Eyes
The skin that surrounds the outer area of the eyes can be quick to develop dark sunspots if it is not protected. To get the maximum level of protection possible, wear a pair of sun-shielding glasses after you’ve applied SPF.
4. Wear a Hat
“Even when using a strong SPF, a hat is mandatory. No matter how much SPF your sunscreen offers, it is not enough,” says Dr. Tanzi. Wide-brimmed hats are best since they add another level of protection by blocking the face from the sun.