Hyperpigmentation is a common dermatological issue that can be difficult to tackle. Though mild pigmentation is nothing to worry about and is rightfully embraced, numerous people resort to unsafe methods (harsh exfoliation, lightening creams etc) to get rid of these dark patches and spots.
Plus, some specific kinds of hyperpigmentation could be indicating severe underlying medical issues.
We spoke to our expert Cosmetic-Dermatologist, Dr. Sravya Tipirneni, to get you the facts on why you need to pay more attention to hyperpigmentation for not just cosmetic reasons but health reasons as well.
She shares information on the different types of hyperpigmentation and what you can do to bring the issue under control.
Technically speaking, what is Hyperpigmentation?
Present in men and women alike, hyperpigmentation is nothing but the darkening of the skin due to excessive melanin production. This darkening may occur as dark patches or sparse spots. It can appear anywhere but is often associated with the forehead, nose and cheeks. In simpler words, it is skin darkening beyond its natural complexion.
Hyperpigmentation: What causes the skin to darken?
Pigmentation as sparse spots is usually harmless. However, dark patches or tinted blotches can be an indication of underlying obesity issues, insulin resistance and lack of exercise amongst other reasons. Hyperpigmentation is usually a byproduct of several factors -
- Lifestyle and eating habits
- Hormonal imbalances - PCOS, Pregnancy
- Poor sun protection
- Steroid-induced reactions
- Harsh cosmetic procedures
- Lack of sleep
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
The exact reason for hyperpigmentation in a person is tough to nail down. This is why it’s crucial to understand the different types of hyperpigmentation that can happen and what causes them. So, let’s dive deeper.
The many types of Hyperpigmentation
Here’s the low down on various types of hyperpigmentation and what you can do to manage them.
Even though periorbital discoloration or dark circles is a common phenomenon, its broad category type makes it difficult to treat. Dark circles aren't just a revelation of your late-nights but of reasons that may actually surprise you. Here are just some of the reasons that could result in dark circles -
- Deep-set eyes: Present a natural shadow-like effect that results in pseudo-dark circles.
- Thin under eye skin: Due to loss of collagen, the veins show through more prominently.
- Lack of sleep: Over a prolonged period, it causes a fluid buildup resulting in puffy eyes.
- Dehydration: Makes the skin beneath your eyes look dull and sunken.
Other reasons include -
- Overuse of gadgets
- Excessive rubbing of eyes
- Wrinkles due to aging
- Lack of Vitamin B12
- Not washing off eye makeup
It is best to tackle dark circles via a mix of certified cosmetic procedures, skincare and conscious lifestyle choices. Hence, instead of hoarding one cream after the other, consult a dermatologist and diligently follow lifestyle changes for the best effect.
A common pigmentation disorder, Melasma causes brown or gray patches to appear on the forehead, nose, chin, cheek and upper lips. This hyperpigmentation is more prominent in women and is easily triggered by hormonal imbalances like pregnancy, use of oral contraceptive pills, thyroid disorders and PCOS.
Incorrect chemical peels and harsh cosmetics have been reported to trigger it as well. Melasma can be managed by a diligent mix of skin lightening treatments and lifelong sun protection. It's advisable to reapply sunscreen every 3 hours and use protective barriers like hats, scarves and sunglasses.
Indians tend to have inherent dark lips or lip hyperpigmentation. A delicate area, your lips are far more susceptible to damage than provided for. While most cases of dehydration show up as temporary darkening of lips with wrinkled and dry skin, other habits may have a lasting effect.
Case in Point - Smoking and Lip Biting.
Your lips may keep many secrets, but smoking isn’t one of them. Over time, smokers develop a greyish/brownish tinge due to excessive heat accumulation in the delicate lip area (lip mucosa). Constant lip biting is another leading cause of lip darkening as the lips are trying to heal themselves, over and over again.Expired cosmetics or darker lipstick shades also cause lip darkening as excessive use of strong pigments leave stains behind.
Hence, subjective to the actual reasoning for lip darkening, different procedures and medications are used to lighten their appearance.
Get in touch with a dermatologist who could help you zero in on the root cause and suggest relevant treatment methods.
Pro tip - Place multiple water bottles around your house/workspace to increase your water intake & prevent dehydration.
Underarms and Groin Darkening
Darkened velvety cracks, hyperpigmentation and thickening in your natural body folds such as underarms, groin and neck are known as Acanthosis nigricans. While there are different types of Acanthosis nigricans, the most common is obesity-associated acanthosis.
This can get activated at any age yet is most often seen in adults. This darkening can also be caused by an underlying condition such as Cushing syndrome, polycystic syndrome or a drug-induced reaction and is called syndromic acanthosis.
As it’s a deep-rooted condition, it’s important to identify and treat the underlying disease via thorough screenings for diabetes and insulin resistance. It’s also best to treat underarms and groin darkening using a combination of laser treatment, medication, topical retinoids, chemical peels and other lifestyle changes.
Facial pigmentation or facial acanthosis is an extended patch of pigmentation prominently observed in Indian men across upper cheeks, nose and forehead. It appears like a scarred greyish/blackish patch and is a tell-all sign of underlying obesity issues, insulin resistance, and lack of exercise.
It can also appear due to years of radiation exposure, tanning, and inefficient sun protection.Fortunately, it’s manageable and can be drastically lightened by following a combination of healthy diet, exercise, medications from a dermatologist and adequate sun protection.
While DIY's are a savior otherwise, our spot army needs more attention than just that. It’s a health condition that needs a dermatologist and not Dr Internet. A mix of lifestyle changes such as better diet, ample sleep, exercise, adequate sun protection and dermato-cosmetic treatments can help manage hyperpigmentation. The idea is to find easy ways to incorporate these habits as a part of your lifestyle versus something you do just for your skin.
There is no "one-tube-fits-all'' solution to treating hyperpigmentation and your medications will only work if your habits do.