Men's Top Concerns

Hyperpigmentation Explained

For many people, hyperpigmentation is a frustrating barrier to having clear skin. Here are signs of hyperpigmentation, plus prevention and treatment tips.
Hyperpigmentation Explained

Perhaps you haven’t dealt with hyperpigmentation yet, but most people experience some form of it in their lifetimes. And for all of those people, hyperpigmentation is a superficial headache. 

Hyperpigmentation is when your skin creates too much melanin in specific spots on the skin, often at the site of a healing wound, or caused by hormonal changes as well as recent sun exposure. Typically, melanin is produced by the skin to defend the epidermis from UV damage. Numerous factors contribute to this increase in melanin production over time, namely the cells known as melanocytes that produce melanin being compromised by hormones, sun exposure, and toxins in the air around you.

There are three primary types of hyperpigmentation:

  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: This is when you experience a melanin buildup at the site of a wound, like after acne heals. The melanin helps heal the wound, but its excess lingers on the skin after the fact, sometimes for months on end. 
  • Age spots: These are isolated discolorations that are common in individuals above 30, and are typically brought about by excessive UV/sun exposure. They are characteristically flat and can be slightly darker or much darker than the surrounding skin. 
  • Melasma: Melasma is characterized by dark patches of skin, and is especially common for people who experience excessive sun exposure. It can cast itself across the forehead, cheeks, nose, or elsewhere. Usually it appears as a brown past of skin, darker than the surrounding areas. Women are more likely to experience it than men.

Hyperpigmentation Prevention

1. SPF: We’ll get right out front and say it: The best way to prevent hyperpigmentation is to wear SPF30+ every single day, even in winter or cloudy weather. After all, exposure to UV rays is what causes your melanocytes to fortify the epidermis with melanin in the first place… so by having a daily defense against UV damage goes a long way in terms of slowing and preventing hyperpigmentation. Seriously, UV rays can penetrate clouds and glass, so imagine what that daily usage—multiplied over the course of a lifetime—does in terms of mitigating damage.

We recommend incorporating an SPF 30 moisturizer into your routine, since you are (ideally) already applying moisturizer each morning. By getting one with SPF, you save yourself the extra step and are ensuring UV coverage without any added hassle. And in general, when you are out in the sun, it’s wise to avoid direct exposure as much as possible; so wear a hat, lay under a beach umbrella or in the shade, and try to avoid the most intense part of the day (11am-2pm).

2. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is the other key anti-hyperpigmentation ingredient that people incorporate into their skincare regimen. When used daily and indefinitely, topical Vitamin C can inhibit melanin production. Because the ingredient tends to be volatile, it’s important to find a Vitamin C product that is fresh (and hasn’t been sitting on the shelves for months on end) as well as one that doesn’t experience much exposure to oxygen and light. If you are prone to hyperpigmentation, then Vitamin C is a good ingredient to invest in—and thus, one to consider spending extra money on in terms of ensuring the product is high quality and carefully shielded from the elements, as opposed to a vessel that compromises its potency. 

3. Antioxidants: One of the other best ways to prevent hyperpigmentation is by fortifying skin with antioxidants (Vitamin C included). Any ingredient with antioxidant properties will help your skin fend off the damage caused by pollutants and toxins in the air (any big city dwellers should take note, especially, since their air tends to be much more polluted). Look for ingredients like Vitamin A, C, E in your regimen. Brands might also list extracts or oils that themselves have antioxidant properties. Another popular ingredient that exhibits some antioxidant properties is niacinamide.

Hyperpigmentation Treatments

If you are experiencing hyperpigmentation, then the treatment typically depends on the severity of the case, and the type of hyperpigmentation it is. Extreme cases and large patches of hyperpigmentation (namely melasma and age spots) are often best treated by dermatologists and estheticians, who deploy laser peel treatments to lift away the outermost layers of cells and promote rapid turnover of newer cells. Overall, the effect “brightens” and clears complexion, which is why you will often see hyperpigmentation treatments advertising brightness and clarity.

Dermatologists are also likely to prescribe high-grade concentrations of retinol or hydroquinone, too. The former is a Vitamin A derivative that also promotes rapid cellular turnover and can further prevent things like acne and excess oil production. It’s a terrific anti-aging product, too, that you should inquire about even if you aren’t experiencing hyperpigmentation. Hydroquinone is a skin-bleaching agent that is commonly prescribed for melasma and age spots; it needs to be closely monitored by a board-certified dermatologist to ensure that its benefits don’t overcorrect and cause too much lightening.

A common at-home effort you can take to treat hyperpigmentation is to deploy light-peeling chemical exfoliants, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and even the more deeply penetrating salicylic acid. These ingredients expedite the shedding of dead cells in order to showcase a brighter, clearer complexion overall. You can target problem areas or use them uniformly across the face. Some brands even offer high-grade at-home peels, for uniform brightness or dark spot correction, but the application instructions of these products must be carefully followed, especially if they are marketed as “peels” (as opposed to simple exfoliating serums, splashes, or creams). If you are considering a peel, then we recommend visiting a professional esthetician or board-certified dermatologist for a clinical peel that will be more carefully monitored (and likely more effective, too). 

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