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Worldwide, people have skin with a wide range of pigmentation. Regardless of your skin color, you expect the color to be consistent. When you see patches of increased pigmentation, this is called skin hyperpigmentation, and it has multiple causes. Because hyperpigmentation worsens with age, many people seek age-management solutions to even out their skin pigmentation and reduce their risk of hyperpigmentation.
Skin pigment is produced by cells called melanocytes. When melanocytes produce excess melanin, darker skin patches develop. Hyperpigmentation can occur in people of all skin types, but it is more common in people with darker skin tones.
Besides exposure to ultraviolet light (sun exposure), there are three main types of skin hyperpigmentation—post-inflammatory, age spots, and melasma.
Age spots are flat brown, gray, or black spots in sun-exposed areas. These spots are clumps of excess melanin. They are usually oval, round, or irregular, a few millimeters to a few centimeters in size, and are benign.1 The best way to prevent and treat age spots is to protect your skin from UV light exposure. Before treating age spots, check with your dermatologist to ensure you are not dealing with a more serious condition.
Age spots are harmless melanin collections. Many people treat them because they are not happy with their appearance.
Melasma is a brown or gray discoloration that develops on sun-exposed surfaces, especially on the face. While anyone can experience melasma, it is more common in pregnant women and people with darker-pigmented skin. The discoloration is flat, not itchy or rashy, and is symmetrical in distribution. The exact cause of melasma is not known. Triggers for melasma include:2
Melasma tends to be hard to treat and prone to relapse.3 It is not a harmful condition, but many people seek cosmetic treatment for it. Even though medical care isn’t necessary, it’s important to use sunscreen to protect yourself from UV light. 2
Minor trauma to the skin can be associated with hyperpigmentation, including:4,5
Besides trauma, other potential causes of hyperpigmentation include:4,5
Hyperpigmentation can be diagnosed visually when patches of more darkly pigmented skin develop. However, diagnosing hyperpigmentation often involves seeing a dermatologist to determine the underlying cause, exclude a more serious diagnosis, such as melanoma, and learn about potential treatment options.
Treatment options for hyperpigmentation:5
Nourishing your skin can help reduce the effects of pollutants on skin cells and speed up repair. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and nutrients such as protein, vitamins E and C, biotin, and omega-3 fatty acids, support collagen production, and help the skin retain moisture. NAD+ and glutathione are antioxidants that protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation damage and inflammation that may cause hyperpigmentation. Read what others have said about the skin-protecting and healing benefits of glutathione in these reviews.
The best prevention for skin hyperpigmentation is regular sunscreen use. Ultraviolet radiation increases inflammation, damages DNA, and causes oxidative cell damage. Follow these tips to protect your skin from ultraviolet damage:5
Age spots, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are the three major categories of benign skin hyperpigmentation. These conditions are considered to be benign but are often treated for cosmetic reasons. If you are unsure of the cause of your skin hyperpigmentation, consult with a dermatologist to rule out a more serious medical condition. There are several treatment options for skin hyperpigmentation, but the most important is protection from ultraviolet radiation.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
1. Braun R, Nouveau S. Solar lentigines. Dermoscopedia. https://dermoscopedia.org/w/index.php?title=Solar_lentigines&oldid=16362
2. Handel AC, Miot LDB, Miot HA. Melasma: a clinical and epidemiological review. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 2014;89(5):771-782. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20143063
3. Sarma N, Chakraborty S, Poojary SA, et al. Evidence-based Review, Grade of Recommendation, and Suggested Treatment Recommendations for Melasma. Indian Dermatol Online J. Nov-Dec 2017;8(6):406-442. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_187_17
4. Taylor S, Grimes P, Lim J, Im S, Lui H. Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. Journal of cutaneous medicine and surgery. 2009;13(4):183-191.
5. Davis EC, Callender VD. Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of color. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Jul 2010;3(7):20-31.