If you’re dealing with skin discoloration, you’re not alone. Skin discoloration is a common condition. It can develop on the face due to acne, sun exposure, genetics, and more. Skin discoloration is also referred to as hyperpigmentation.
If you’re wondering how to treat hyperpigmentation on the face, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll break down the different types of hyperpigmentation and discuss their top treatment protocols.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is caused by an overproduction of melanin, a pigment that determines the color of your skin, hair, and eyes. The more melanin your skin has, the darker it will be.
When you have hyperpigmentation, certain areas of your skin may produce more melanin than others. As a result, you may have small spots or skin patches that are darker than your natural skin tone.
Many things can cause you to overproduce melanin, ranging from medical conditions to sun exposure.
Types of hyperpigmentation
Here are the most common types of hyperpigmentation and their primary causes:
Post-inflammatory dark spots – At times, your skin may get injured from acne, bug bites, burns, scratches, lupus, or eczema. When this happens, the surrounding area can become inflamed. This inflammatory response can cause hyperpigmentation, since it sends your melanin-producing cells into hyperdrive. If you pick at your skin, you may be even more likely to incur these dark spots.
Melasma – Melasma, also known as the “mask of pregnancy,” is a form of hyperpigmentation that is caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy or while on oral contraceptives. Sun exposure and genetics can also play a role in its development.
The discoloration caused by melasma is often larger in size than other types of hyperpigmentation. It most commonly develops on the forehead, cheeks, chin, arms, and neck.
Due to its hormonal component, melasma is more commonly seen in people who menstruate, though people who do not menstruate can develop it too. Melasma often clears up on its own once pregnancy or the use of oral contraception ceases.
Sunspots – Sun exposure can cause your skin to create more melanin. That’s why laying outside on a sunny day can help you get a tan. In certain cases, sun exposure may also trigger the development of hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation caused by the sun goes by many names, including sunspots, age spots, liver spots, and solar lentigines. Sunspots usually arise in the areas you receive the most sun exposure, such as your hands or face. Sunspots can increase with age as your overall sun exposure compounds.
Certain conditions – Hyperpigmentation may also result from Addison’s disease, which is an adrenal gland disorder that can impact your melanin production. This type of hyperpigmentation is most commonly seen in the folds of the skin, knees, elbows, knuckles, toes, and lips.
Reactions to medications – Lastly, you may develop hyperpigmentation in response to taking certain medications, such as NSAIDs, heavy metals, tetracyclines, or antimalarials.
No matter its cause, hyperpigmentation is usually harmless. Even so, many people want to treat it for cosmetic purposes. Your healthcare provider may be able to help you narrow down the cause of your hyperpigmentation. Understanding your skin discolorations’ root cause can help you pursue the right treatment plan.
How to treat hyperpigmentation
Now that you know the different types of hyperpigmentation, let’s discuss how to treat discoloration on the face. So you've noticed patches of darker skin pigmentation or sun spots, the next step is finding the right skin hyperpigmentation treatment.
Hyperpigmentation treatment often involves a combination of:
Disrupting excess melanin production
Encouraging faster cell turnover to shed discolored skin
Preventing hyperpigmentation from developing in the future
Keep in mind that treating hyperpigmentation can take up to six to 12 months. Even after your discoloration fades away, you may need to take preventative measures to keep it from coming back.
6 steps to treat hyperpigmentation
Here are six steps you can take to reverse skin discoloration over time:
#1 Apply a topical cream
If you visit your healthcare provider for hyperpigmentation, there’s a good chance that they’ll prescribe you a topical cream.
The following types of creams are often used for hyperpigmentation treatment:
Hydroquinone – Hydroquinone is a powerful tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinases play a key role in melanin production. By inhibiting them, hydroquinone can pause the development of additional over-pigmentation and discoloration.
Higher-percentage hydroquinone typically requires a prescription. It should only be used for up to six months at a time, since prolonged use may cause you to develop rare, irreversible dark patches, known as exogenous ochronosis.
Retinoids – Retinoids are chemical exfoliators that can increase your skin’s cellular turnover. As a result, they can help you speed up the shedding process of your discolored skin.
Tretinoin is a popular retinoid used in hyperpigmentation treatment. It’s also heralded for its anti-aging and acne-fighting properties. When used consistently over time, tretinoin has been shown to lower the melanin content of the skin.
Corticosteroids – If your hyperpigmentation is due to inflammation, a corticosteroid may be able to help. Corticosteroids have been shown to ameliorate post-inflammatory dark spots within a couple of weeks.
It’s important to note that some topical creams can be irritating to the skin. As a result, you may experience some inflammation or reddening after application.
Additionally, some of these products may make your skin more sensitive to UV and sun damage. Thus, it’s crucial to apply sunscreen daily during hyperpigmentation treatment. The overall benefits of sunscreen can help prevent and treat many skin conditions.
#2 Exfoliate on a weekly basis
Gentle exfoliation can speed up your skin’s rate of cellular turnover and help you shed your discolored skin faster. Exfoliating once a week may be able to help you get rid of your hyperpigmentation.
There are two types of exfoliants you can try:
Chemical – Chemical exfoliants often contain acids, such as lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, or salicylic acid. These acids can break down the bonds of your dead skin cells so you can wash them away.
Physical – Physical exfoliants contain abrasive particles that buff away dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin. While you can control the pressure of physical exfoliation, it may be more likely to cause irritation and inflammation than chemical exfoliation.
The type of exfoliator you use can depend on a few factors like your skin type, sensitivity, preference, and more. Just be careful not to overdo your exfoliation routine and learn how to layer the products with the proper skincare routine order, to prevent further irritation. Too much exfoliation can damage your skin barrier. If you’ve already noticed damage and are wondering how to repair the skin barrier, don’t worry because there are a few options to do so. However, preventive care is always best.
#3 Consider a chemical peel
If your hyperpigmentation is hard to treat with topicals, you may want to consider getting a chemical peel. Chemical peels use strong concentrations of acid to chemically exfoliate your skin and remove its outermost layers. By removing these layers, chemical peels may also be able to remove stubborn pigmentation.
Chemical peels come in two main varieties:
Superficial – Superficial chemical peels work on the top layer of your skin. They don’t require any downtime, though their ability to help you even out your complexion may be limited.
Medium depth – Medium depth peels go a little deeper. As a result, they may be more effective at lifting off stubborn pigment. As an added bonus, medium depth chemical peels can also help you minimize the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
It’s important to keep in mind that chemical peels can be harsh on your skin. Some patients develop redness, blistering, and irritation after treatment. Your skin may also be more sensitive to UV exposure after a chemical peel.
#4 Look into laser therapy
Another way you may be able to treat hyperpigmentation is through laser therapy. During a laser therapy session, your skin is treated with an intense, pulsing light. This light can break down excess pigmentation deep within the skin.
While laser therapy treatment options often have decent short-term results, hyperpigmentation often comes back in a few months. Additionally, lasers can cause hyperpigmentation in certain cases.
Before you schedule a laser session, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider to determine whether or not laser therapy is right for you.
#5 Kick your skin-picking habit
Popping a pimple or scratching a bug bite may be tempting, but it’s not helping your hyperpigmentation. If you have post-inflammatory dark spots from picking at your skin, you’ll want to quit this habit for good. Even if you treat your hyperpigmentation, continued skin picking may bring it back sooner than later.
#6 Wear sunscreen every day
One of the best things you can do to prevent hyperpigmentation is to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day. In fact, if you’re wondering how to prevent aging or protect your skin barrier, sunscreen is one of the most important things you can add to your skin care as it has many benefits.
In this case, sunscreen can protect your skin while you’re undergoing the treatments listed above. It can also help prevent hyperpigmentation from developing in the future.
Keep in mind that UV rays can still damage your skin on cloudy days or while you’re indoors. That’s why applying it every day is so important. Aside from hyperpigmentation and sun spots, sun damage can also increase your chances of developing skin cancer.
The Pill Club: Treat your hyperpigmentation today
As you can see, hyperpigmentation is a common condition. Fortunately, it’s possible to treat with the right products and protocols.
If you’re eager to get your skin tone back on track, The Pill Club can help. We’ve partnered with healthcare professionals to deliver you the prescription skin care you need to treat your skin discoloration. We can also help you address preventing acne scars, inflammation, and more. The best part? Our skin care can cost as little as $0 with insurance.
Are you ready to pursue a clearer complexion? Sign up to receive your custom selection of skincare products from The Pill Club today.
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