General Overview

Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition in which patches of skin become darker than the natural surrounding skin due to an increase in melanin. It can be caused by excess sun exposure and skin damage including scarring from acne. People with naturally darker skin such as African Americans and Indians are more likely to suffer from hyperpigmentation because they already have more melanin in their skin to begin with. Hyperpigmentation is also associated with several diseases including celiac disease, melasma, tinea fungal infection, and Cushing’s disease.

Mild to moderate hyperpigmentation can be treated with a powerful prescription skin bleach called hydroquinone. Some over-the-counter topical products also relieve hyperpigmentation with active ingredients such as licorice extract, retinol and ascorbic acid.

How Hyperpigmentation Occurs

One of the common causes of hyperpigmentation is sun exposure and sun damage to the skin. Excessive sun exposure and tanning increases the amount of melanin in the skin. This can eventually result in darkened spots on the chest, hands and face.

Another cause for hyperpigmentation is hormonal changes due to pregnancy. Pregnancy can sometimes trigger the overproduction of melanin in the skin, thereby resulting in darkened spots of hyperpigmentation on the face and abdomen. Some birth control pills also result in this type of hyperpigmentation because they contain hormones that also trigger melanin production in the skin. Additionally, hyperpigmentation also occurs as a result of damage to the skin, particularly damage in the form of acne. Severe acne, known as acne vulgaris, can result in darkened patches caused by an increase in melanin production on the skin after the acne clears. The hyperpigmentation can be aggravated if the individual picks at her acne or otherwise causes injury to the site.

Treatments

One of the most popular products used to treat hyperpigmentation is hydroquinone, which is a powerful skin bleaching agent. Hydroquinone works to remove hyperpigmentation by slowing down the production of melanin in the area. Thus, the dark spots are allowed to fade away gradually and return to the normal color of an individual’s skin. Hydroquinone lotions and creams are available over-the-counter and as a prescription, although the prescription version contains double the amount of the over-the-counter versions. Severe hyperpigmentation can be treated with cortisone cream and laser resurfacing treatments.