When it comes to our skin, hyperpigmentation can be one of the most feared prognoses. Some people are born with hyperpigmentation; others develop the darkened pigment over time. Hyperpigmentation is simply the excess production of melanin in our skin. Melanin is what gives our skin its pigment or color. Specific skin cells, called melanocytes, create the melanin seen on our skin as spots, freckles, large patches, masks, or even all over the entire body.
While the term hyperpigmentation makes us cringe in the skin care world due to our sought after “flawless skin”, it actually isn’t harmful and usually isn’t a sign of any serious medical issues. There are several different types of hyperpigmentation that stem from unique sources. The top 3 most common forms are solar lentigines, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
1) The most common and easiest to avoid are solar lentigines or sun spots. These boogers are the result of over exposure to the sun and typically develop over a period of years, popping out in our 30-40’s after years of sun bathing and UV damage and are the spots referred to by our grandparents as “liver spots”. The body’s most vulnerable areas, like the face, décolleté, and hands, get the blunt of the sun’s fury. This type of hyperpigmentation typically shows itself as freckles or small darkened spots as a result of increased melanin production in the skin’s attempt at self-defense. It’s simple, the more sun exposure, the higher the risk for development. A good, reliable UVA and UVB SPF of no less than 30 can help eliminate initial sun damage. Every single person should be applying sunblock DAILY to avoid sun spots. Treatment can include skin bleaching products, brightening and lightening creams, laser treatments, and even skin resurfacing procedures.
2) Melasma (chloasma spots) are typically deemed as “pregnancy mask”, which can be large blotches of darkened areas on the body, seen on the face and abdomen in most cases. It is thought to be caused by the change in hormone levels during pregnancy, affecting the production of melanin. This type of hyperpigmentation can fade and relapse on its own. Inflammation and irritation have been seen as triggers for flare-ups of melasma. Avoiding sun exposure and wearing SPF and proper sun blocking hats and clothing are the best preventative methods. Treatment can be tricky and long-term in an attempt to prevent back-fire of increased melanin production. Bleaching creams, laser treatments, and/or skin resurfacing are the best options to help lighten and alleviate darkened masks.
3) The most common form of skin darkening is referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and is basically the body’s response to a skin injury leaving a darkened “scar” once the skin heals. Acne scarring is a common form of PIH, as well as surgical incisions, and skin abrasions. PIH can be avoided by steering clear of sun exposure to fresh healing wounds and using broad-spectrum sun blocks.
While hyperpigmentation can be an inherited characteristic, such as freckles, it can also be largely avoided and prevented. With increasing knowledge about sun damage and development of better sun protectants, we can have better chances at porcelain complexions and slow our rates of skin aging and damage. The best thing we can all do is invest in high-quality; broad spectrum, medical grade sun-blocks and skin care products and begin treatment NOW for better skin. The skin we are born in is the only one we get, so take as best of care as possible.
CaloSpa Beauty Advisor, Ashton Gooch