As aggravating as hyperpigmentation can be, understanding why it’s happening and how you can stop it (yes, it can be done) is rule number-one on the path to clear, even skin.
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Brown, red or pink, small or large, clustered or diffuse, hyperpigmentation is a darkening of the skin due to higher than normal levels of melanin. Any part of the skin that is darker than the rest is hyperpigmented, no matter where it occurs. The most important thing to do is wear sunscreen—even if you don’t see discoloration on your skin, you should protect it from the sun to lessen your chances in the future.
Two Types of Melanin
Melanocyte cells make pigment by creating one of two types of melanin: eumelanin or pheomelanin. Both are found in the skin and each creates different shades of pigment. Eumelanin is brown to black in color and is more common in those with tan or darker skin. It also absorbs UV rays, acting as a skin protector. Pheomelanin is yellow to red in color and is found in concentrated amounts in the lips and in people with lighter skin tones. Pheomelanin cannot absorb UV rays and makes the skin more sensitive to UV rays.
Types of Discoloration and How to Treat Them
Light to medium brown in color, this pigmentation occurs on the cheeks, sides of the face, upper part of the nose, forehead and above the lip. It appears as splotchy patches that are inconcistent in shape and size, and is caused by a surge in hormones, usually from pregnancy or birth control coupled with sun exposure. Melasma can be treated with: hydroquinone and Retin-A; salicylic,lactic or glycolic acid peels; Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) plus vitamin C; or Cosmelan. (Melasma is hard to treat because of its potential to reoccur.)
Sunspots (AKA Age or Liver Spots)
Light to dark brown in color, sunspots can appear on the face, chest and hands; and look like small, flat, dark spots. As their name indicates, they are caused by the sun and can be treated with Retinol+IPL or fractional laser resurfacing.
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)
Pink, red or brown in color, PIH can show up anywhere on the face. It appears as flat spots and is caused by inflammatory acne. PIH can be treated with light salicylic acid chemical peels or red light and blue light treatments (if there is active acne).
Caused by the sun, freckles are light to dark brown or even red or black in color. They occur on the face, chest and arms in the form of small, concentrated spots. For treatment try Fraxel or an Nd:YAG laser.