The medical term used to describe patches of skin that may appear darker than the surrounding skin is hyperpigmentation. Examples of this include freckles, birth marks, sun spots, age spots, acne scars, scalding with hot water, hormonal fluctuations, and more.
Pregnancy and birth control pills – or any hormonal treatment, really – can affect melanin production. Makeup in these instances should contain sufficient iron oxide to block visible light and protect affected areas of your skin. Be sure to use a recommended product with moisturizing, collagen-boosting ingredients, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid to aid in cell turnover rate.
Excess melanin production in hormones is responsible for hyperpigmentation, and can be triggered and exacerbated by anything from acne scars to sun damage, skin rashes or existing medical skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. Triggers have the potential to stimulate melanocytes (pigment-producing cells for the skin) into generating an excess of pigment.
More commonly seen in darker-skinned women, Melasma is thought to be triggered by excessive exposure to UV light, coupled with ongoing hormonal fluctuations. Melasma may appear as symmetrical and perhaps blotchy patches of darker skin on the face. Common places include the bridge of the cheeks and nose, and across the forehead, chin or upper lip.
Hyperpigmentation can be diagnosed in three ways:
- Epidermal hyperpigmentation, which presents as light brown spots that do not appear as dense as dermal spots do
- Dermal hyperpigmentation, where dark brown spots appear on the skin, often ashen-gray in color, densely clumped and solid in patches
- A mixture of epidermal and dermal, sometimes presenting as alternating dark and lighter-colored brown spots
The three types of hyperpigmentation are:
- Solar lentigines, which are harmless spots that commonly affect people aged 40+, and are caused by ongoing and chronic exposure to UV rays. This stimulates melanocytes into accumulating excessive melanin in skin cells
- Melasma is also known as “the mask of pregnancy” and although it usually occurs in women, it can also develop in men
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when a skin injury like a wound or insect bite, or even an old chicken pox or acne scar, leads to an excess of pigmentation in your skin
Hyperpigmentation may also appear on other body parts, such as your torso or back, arms or legs.
Although hyperpigmentation is not picky about which race it affects, studies indicate that genetically, those with historically darker skin tones, and Asians or those of Asian descent, have an increased risk of developing hyperpigmentation.
While it’s true that hyperpigmentation is commonly due to an excess of melanin, why your body started overproducing melanin could have many hidden causes. Consult with your medical practitioner or dermatologist if you are at all concerned about skin pigmentation issues in the following situations or conditions:
- possible side effects from chemotherapy
- medications for specific medical conditions
- changes in your hormone levels
- pregnancy and endocrine diseases
- dermatillomania (aka skin scratching)
- post-surgical procedures
- chicken pox or shingles
- skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis
- severe sunburn or razor bumps
- insect bites (and related scratching issues)
Generally, when the skin is damaged in some way, hyperpigmentation is your body’s defense reaction.
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