Hyperpigmentation FAQs: What is Hyperpigmentation?
Do you have dark spots or sections of pigment on your face? Don’t stress - you’re not alone!
Many people want to know how to treat dark spots. Pigmentation and hyperpigmentation is very common and affects many people for a range of reasons, which can include hormonal changes, sun exposure, skin damage or genetics.
Most hyperpigmentation is generally harmless, but if your hyperpigmentation is bothering you or you’d simply rather have it gone, then fear not because there are treatments that can be applied to significantly fade and even remove the spots of hyperpigmentation.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Most of us will experience hyperpigmentation on our face or body at some point in our lives. Hyperpigmentation appears as spots which can range in colour from a pale reddish white to a dark brownish black, depending on your skin tone.
What are the main causes of hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation can make the skin appear to be uneven and sun damaged, or give the skin a dull, worn-down tone which can make you look older.
Pigmentation is caused by excessive production of pigment in the skin that gives the skin a brown hue - melanin.
Melanin is produced by special skin cells known as melanocytes - it’s their sole job to produce melanin, which absorbs and scatters the sun’s harsh UV rays. It does this to protect the skin cells from damage.
What skin types are more susceptible to hyperpigmentation?
The more sunlight you’re exposed to, the more melanin your body will try to produce as a defence response. This is why people who have lived in sunny climates for generations will sometimes have darker complexions than those who have lived in cooler climates.
When we are in direct sunlight, sometimes our melanocytes can behave abnormally, multiplying and distributing melanin unevenly. This results in spots or patches of melanin, which we know as hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation is more common in people who receive sporadic sunlight exposure - for instance, if you don’t spend much time outdoors but then spend all day at a barbeque and get sunburnt, you’re more likely to experience hyperpigmentation as a result of the sunburn healing than someone who experiences more frequent, even sun exposure.
What does hyperpigmentation look like?
There are three main types of hyperpigmentation, which we’ve listed below - and they all have slightly different appearances.1. Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)
PIH is when skin changes colour (anywhere on the face or body) as a response to a wound, rash or sometimes acne. Melanin is produced when skin is healing so sometimes, when skin undergoes and heals from a trauma, it leaves behind a mark. PIH can range in colour from white, pink/red, purple, brown or black - depending on your skin tone.
2. Sun spots
Sun spots are the most common cause of hyperpigmentation, and they’re caused by the body trying to defend itself against the sun’s harmful UV rays. They tend to be on the parts of your face and body that receive the most sun exposure and can be black, brown or grey. They’ll generally look like splotches or freckles.
They are also known as ‘age spots’ and ‘liver spots’ as they are commonly seen in older people.
Melasma is caused by your body responding to hormonal changes in your body - melasma is very common during pregnancy and is also often seen in women using hormonally-based contraceptive methods. Melasma causes skin to form patches of black or brown, usually on the face and stomach.
Whatever type of hyperpigmentation that you’re experiencing, it’s always best to be sure to check with your healthcare provider if you’re at all concerned.
How long does hyperpigmentation take to go away?
If you’re wondering how long you’ll be stuck with your hyperpigmentation, the good news is that it generally does fade away. Over time, the appearance of the discolouration will lessen gradually - this occurs when the skin heals and the melanin begins to be absorbed into the surrounding tissue.
How long hyperpigmentation takes to go away varies - this can take anywhere from a few months (e.g. in the case of minor skin trauma) or even up to several years.
By the same token, some cases of hyperpigmentation will fade away completely and others will fade up until a certain point, then stall there.
The timeframe that it takes for hyperpigmentation to fade is dependent on:
- The type/severity of the trauma that preceded the hyperpigmentation developing
- The original cause of the discolouration
- Your skin tone
- How you treat your skin
However your hyperpigmentation was caused, you can look after your skin well to promote your body’s natural ability to heal itself.
How do you prevent hyperpigmentation?
Prevention is always better than cure - but in many cases of hyperpigmentation (such as hormonally caused hyperpigmentation), keeping it at bay is not 100% within our control.
When it comes to preventing almost all skincare concerns - lather on the sunscreen! Freckles, age spots and damaged skin can all become more pronounced when they’re exposed to the sun, as melanin absorbs the sun’s harmful UV rays and as a result, the melanin gets even darker and more noticeable.
Opt for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that will block UVA and UVB rays, and no less than SPF30+.
What are the treatments for hyperpigmentation?
Whether you're experiencing hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure, hormonal changes, skin trauma or acne - there are three main treatments:
- Physical exfoliation
- Chemical exfoliation
- Brightening active ingredients
When it comes to brightening active ingredients, Vitamin C serum is one of the best places to start.
Antioxidant-rich Vitamin C is a free-radical neutraliser, protecting your skin from harmful atmospheric elements that can contribute to the darkening of hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C serum also helps to stabilise the skin after injury from UV and infrared light, as well as brightening the skin’s appearance all over.
And as a bonus, Vitamin C serum helps to fight fine lines and smooths texture. It’s a great addition to your AM skincare routine.
Our top tip: Try mixing a small amount of Vitamin C serum with your fave liquid foundation - this will give your foundation a dewy, natural cover and give you a beautiful glow whilst it protects your skin (don’t forget the SPF, too).
Retinol is another great anti-ageing powerhouse that also comes with hyperpigmentation reducing benefits. Not only does Retinol serum help to speed up cell turnover, it also penetrates deeply into the skin to intercept the cycle of hyperpigmentation production. This means that it’s great at treating dark spots that go beyond the surface of the skin.
Our Retinol serum is available in our Anti-Ageing trio of serums (which also contains Vitamin C, if you’d like to try them both).
Other active ingredients that can help speed up the fading of hyperpigmentation by increasing cell turnover are Alpha Hydroxy and Beta Hydroxy Acids (AHAs and BHAs), glycolic acid and kojic acid - all of which are classified as chemical exfoliants.
Physical exfoliation is another way to help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. From the dermatologist’s clinic, chemical peels and laser treatments can be used to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
And of course… microneedling to the rescue! Microneedling is fantastic for reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation, with research backing up its efficacy. Microneedling stimulates cell regeneration, and because cell regeneration can treat dark spots, microneedling is incredibly effective at getting rid of hyperpigmentation.
Stuck between which Dr. Pen microneedling pen model to choose from? This handy comparison guide breaks down some of the differences.
- Sun protection is crucial for preventing hyperpigmentation - but not all hyperpigmentation can be prevented
- Some skin types are more susceptible than others to hyperpigmentation
- Hyperpigmentation is very treatable with chemical and physical exfoliants, plus treatments such as microdermabrasion
- Always check any skin spots with your GP if you’re concerned
- For topical treatments, try Vitamin C serum and Retinol serum to increase cell turnover
Are you experiencing hyperpigmentation, or do you have an experience with hyperpigmentation that you’d like to share? Click here to join our private, VIP Support Group on Facebook.
There, you’ll find a community of beauty and skincare lovers around Australia all sharing their journeys, tips and experiences. Our in-house Beauty Advisor is also in the group, answering your questions!