How to Prevent and Treat Hyperpigmentation

By Dr. Elyse Love

Hyperpigmentation describes any areas on the skin that are darker than your normal skin tone. It can appear virtually anywhere on the body and can affect any skin color, regardless of skin type.

Hyperpigmentation falls into three simple categories:

  1. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can appear after a patch of inflamed skin from acne, eczema, or a bug bite, has cleared. People with on-going skin conditions such as acne and eczema, are more affected by the pigmentation; the darker skin color often remains longer than the inflammation itself. This kind of hyperpigmentation tends to affect more people with darker skin tones.

  2. Primary pigmentary disorders: Melasma and lichen planus pigmentosus are conditions where the skin grows progressively darker without a prior inflammatory condition. While lichen planus occurs mostly on the face, neck or trunk, melasma usually appears only on the face.

  3. Sun induced pigmentation: Sunspots are dark spots that appear on the skin after years of repeated unprotected sun exposure. They tend to start in early adulthood and occur more commonly in lighter skin tone individuals.

How to prevent hyperpigmentation

Controlling hyperpigmentation depends on the case.

To prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, it helps to control the underlying skin condition. The less inflammation there is on the skin, the less post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation will develop and appear later on.

The best way for people with eczema, to prevent hyperpigmentation is to regularly use gentle cleansers and moisturizing emollients such as Vaseline Healing Jelly, along with prescription treatments for flare-ups. Scratching affected or inflamed areas can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, so whenever possible, try to refrain from scratching irritated skin.

Pigmentation from primary pigmentary disorders such as melasma and lichen plants pigmentosus, is a little more difficult to prevent. The most important step you can take is to is to practice diligent sun protection, as sun worsens all pigmentary conditions. You should also know that birth control with estrogen can flare melasma. If you suffer from melasma, it may be worthwhile to switch to a non-estrogen containing form of birth control. Remember, while melasma may be tricky to prevent, it can be treated.

Sun induced hyperpigmentation may be the most preventable form of pigmentation. Using sun protection significantly reduces the severity of it. Remember, hyperpigmentation develops and appears about 10 years after damaging sun exposure, so the protection you use now, can prevent the patchy dark skin tones later.

How do you treat hyperpigmentation?

  1. Sun protection is key to preventing and treating hyperpigmentation. What do I mean by “sun protection?” It begins by reducing sun exposure. I recommend avoiding mid-day sun exposure whenever possible and when you are in the sun, it’s best to use sunscreens with a broad spectrum, SPF 30+, that contain iron oxide. Also, try to wear UPF clothing, sunglasses, in the sun whenever possible.

  2. Pigment regulating topicals can also provide valuable protection against the sun. Look for moisturizers that contain one or more of these ingredients: Retinol/retinoids, vitamin C, glycolic acid, tranexamic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide. They can all help reduce hyperpigmentation.

It’s a good idea to pair these products with a soothing moisturizer to prevent any possible irritation, which can worsen hyperpigmentation.

  1. Procedures such as chemical peels and lasers are also very effective at clearing up post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and may be necessary to really see any reduction in hyperpigmentation.

Please use this information as a helpful prevention guide to keep top of mind. As a Board-Certified Dermatologist, I do recommend making an appointment with your local dermatologist for routine skin checks and specific questions you may have on treating hyperpigmentation. Click HERE to book an appointment near you.