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Update Date 11/05/2020 . 5 mins read


What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a condition that causes the skin to darken. It can occur in small patches, cover large areas, or affect the entire body. This condition usually isn’t harmful, but it can be a symptom of another medical condition.

There are several types of hyperpigmentation:

  • Melasma is believed to be caused by hormonal changes and develops during pregnancy. Areas of hyperpigmentation can appear on any area of the body. They appear most commonly on the abdomen and face.
  • Sunspots, also called liver spots or solar lentigines, are common. They’re related to excess sun exposure over time. Generally, they appear as spots of hyperpigmentation on areas exposed to the sun, like the hands and face.
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a result of an injury to the skin.

How common is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is extremely common. It can occur in patients in any gender at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Which signs and symptoms can hyperpigmentation usually be associated with?

Related signs and symptoms include:

  • Textured skin
  • Skin inflammation


What causes hyperpigmentation?

When exposed to sunlight, specialized skin cells called melanocytes produce increased amounts of the pigment melanin (hyperpigmentation), causing the skin to darken, or tan. In some fair-skinned people, certain melanocytes produce more melanin than others in response to sunlight. This uneven melanin production results in spots of pigmentation known as freckles. A tendency to freckle runs in families.

Actual causes of hyperpigmentation vary, depending on the types.

Localized hyperpigmentation can be caused by:

  • Skin injuries
  • Skin inflammation
  • Reactions to sunlight
  • Abnormal skin growths

Hyperpigmentation can develop after injuries such as cuts and burns or inflammation caused by disorders such as acne and lupus. Some people develop hyperpigmentation in areas of skin that have been exposed to sunlight. Some plants (including limes, celery, and parsley) contain compounds called furocoumarins that make some people’s skin more sensitive to the effects of ultraviolet light. This reaction is called phytophotodermatitis. Hyperpigmentation can also occur in melasma, freckles, lentigines, and café-au-lait spots (flat, brown spots), as well as in abnormal skin growths such as melanoma. People who have a disorder called acanthosis nigricans develop darkened and thickened skin in the underarms, on the nape of the neck, and in skinfolds. Acanthosis nigricans can be a symptom of diabetes.

Lentigines (commonly called liver spots or age spots) are flat, tan to brown, oval spots on the skin. There are 2 types of lentigines:

  • Solar lentigines are caused by sun exposure and are the most common type of lentigo. They occur most frequently on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the face and back of the hands. They typically first appear during middle age and increase in number as people age. Lentigines are noncancerous (benign), but people who have them may be at higher risk of melanoma.
  • Nonsolar lentigines are not caused by sun exposure. Nonsolar lentigines sometimes occur in people with certain rare hereditary disorders, such as Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (characterized by many lentigines on the lips and polyps in the stomach and intestine), xeroderma pigmentosum, and multiple lentigines syndrome (LEOPARD syndrome). If people do not have too many lentigines, doctors can remove them with freezing treatments (cryotherapy) or laser therapy. Bleaching agents such as hydroquinone are not effective.

Widespread hyperpigmentation can be caused by:

  • Changes in hormones
  • Internal diseases
  • Drugs, chemicals, and heavy metals

Hormonal changes may increase melanin production and darken the skin in Addison disease, in pregnancy, or with hormonal contraceptive use. A liver disorder called primary biliary cholangitis (previously called primary biliary cirrhosis) may also cause increased melanin production.

Some cases of hyperpigmentation are caused not by melanin, but by other pigmented substances that are not normally present in the skin. Diseases such as hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis, which are caused by too much iron in the body, can cause hyperpigmentation. Some drugs, chemicals, and metals that are applied to the skin, swallowed, or injected can cause hyperpigmentation.

Drugs, chemicals, and heavy metals that can cause hyperpigmentation include the following:

  • Amiodarone
  • Hydroquinone
  • Antimalarial drugs
  • Tetracycline antibiotics
  • Phenothiazines
  • Some cancer chemotherapy drugs
  • Some tricyclic antidepressants
  • Some heavy metals (such as silver, gold, and mercury)

The areas of hyperpigmentation are usually widespread, but some drugs can specifically affect certain areas. For example, some people develop fixed drug reactions, in which certain drugs (for example, certain antibiotics, NSAIDs, and barbiturates) cause localized skin eruptions in the same place every time the drug is taken. This eventually leads to hyperpigmentation of the affected skin.

Depending on the drug, chemical, or metal and where it is concentrated in the skin, hyperpigmentation may be violet, bluish black, yellow-brown, or shades of blue, silver, and gray. In addition to the skin, the teeth, nails, white of the eyes (sclera), and lining of the mouth (mucosa) may be discolored. With many of these drugs, the hyperpigmentation often fades after the drug is stopped, but with some of them, the hyperpigmentation can be permanent.

The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of this symptom. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for hyperpigmentation?

There are many risk factors for hyperpigmentation, such as:

  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Acne
  • Skin injuries
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormonal disorders

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

When to see your doctor

When should I see my doctor?

You may seek medical help if hyperpigmentation occurs with other symptoms. Hyperpigmentation is usually a harmless condition. However, if you want to get rid of it due to cosmetic reasons, treatment is available.

On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hyperpigmentation?

These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hyperpigmentation:

  • Avoid exposure to the sun. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect the skin and stop hyperpigmentation from becoming darker.
  • Avoid picking at the skin. To prevent hyperpigmentation from forming after an injury, avoid picking at spots, scabs, and acne.
  • Apply aloe vera. Aloesin, a compound that is present in aloe vera, may lighten hyperpigmentation. Aloesin works by inhibiting the production of melanin in the skin. People can apply aloe vera gel from the plant directly to the skin daily. However, no research has directly linked aloe vera to reduced areas of hyperpigmentation, so scientists do not yet know the effectiveness of using this technique.
  • Use creams containing licorice extracts. Licorice extracts may lighten hyperpigmentation. Research suggests that a licorice extract called glabridin can have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and skin-whitening effects. People can use creams containing glabridin on areas of hyperpigmentation. Products containing glabridin are available at drug stores and online.
  • Green tea. Green tea extracts may improve hyperpigmentation. Researchers have long studied green tea for its potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There is very limited research suggesting that green tea extracts can improve melasma and reduce sunburn. More research is needed before scientists can fully understand whether or not green tea can actually improve symptoms.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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