Defining Hyperpigmentation, the Various Types, and Best Treatment Methods for Your Skin
Frustrated by stubborn dark spots and skin discolouration? Hyperpigmentation on the face and body, is a common issue that can be caused by several factors, most notably sun damage.
While it can be a nuisance, there are specialized hyperpigmentation treatments available. Each are designed to target a specific form of hyperpigmentation, leaving you with the results you need to look and feel your best.
Keep reading to understand the underlying causes and the best recommended course of treatment for your specific type of hyperpigmentation.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation of the Skin? Is It Permanent?
Most types of hyperpigmentation are caused by an increase in melanin production in the skin. Melanin is a type of pigment responsible for producing skin colour, and increases with exposure to UV light—i.e., causes the skin to tan when out in the sun.
Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. As the body ages, it has less control over the regulation of melanocytes, which is why hyperpigmentation appears more predominant as we age.
Factors such as lifestyle, heredity, hormonal changes, illnesses, medications, and environment can contribute to the stimulation of melanocytes and result in hyperpigmentation. Of these, the most common causes of hyperpigmentation include sun damage and hormonal fluctuations.
Acne and inflammation caused by injuries to the skin can also cause hyperpigmentation, known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
While skin discolouration is frustrating at the very least, and probably one of the most stubborn skin conditions to treat, with appropriate treatments and preventative measures, you can reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
How Do I Prevent Hyperpigmentation?
To prevent the onset of hyperpigmentation, or to keep it from getting worse, follow these tips:
- Avoid excess sun exposure to prevent melanin production. When going out in the sun, always apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes beforehand, and wear a broad-brimmed hat and long sleeves. Try to stay in the shade, and limit the amount of time spent in direct sunlight, especially during the sun’s peak hours (11 am – 3 pm).
- Wear sunscreen daily and year-round to prevent sun damage and hyperpigmentation. Use a minimum SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen (both UVA and UVB protection). And reapply every two hours when outside. Some sunscreens, such as the Total Defense and Repair from SkinMedica is developed with Infra Red Protection. Not only is it one of the best sunscreens on the market today when it comes to helping anyone suffering from melasma or other forms of skin hyperpigmentation, but it also has the added benefit of keeping the skin cooler as well.
- Use serums with vitamin C—an antioxidant that fights sun damage. Using vitamin C with sunscreen increases the efficacy of both. There is a synergy between these two products, and each increase the benefit of the other 8 folds when used together.
- Opt for skin treatments such as chemical peels to fight sun damage accumulation.
- Use lightening creams with licorice, kojic acid, alpha-hydroxyl acid (AHA), salicylic acid, tranexamic acid, and glycolic acid.
- Follow a proper skincare regimen at home.
- Consider getting end-of-summer facials.
What Are the Various Types of Hyperpigmentation?
Melasma—also known as chloasma—is hyperpigmentation caused by hormonal changes. It is common amongst pregnant women—known as the “mask of pregnancy”—and women who take birth control pills. Melasma might fade after pregnancy, but stress, thyroid conditions, menopause, and other hormonal fluctuations can also result in melasma.
Melasma usually appears on the face as large areas or patches of darkened skin with defined edges. This discolouration is often symmetrical and typically appears in the central third of the face. However, it can appear on the forehead, temples, cheeks, nose, upper lip, chin, neck, and arms.
This form of hyperpigmentation will worsen with sun exposure. Melasma can affect the top layer of skin (epidermal melasma), the deeper dermal layers of skin (dermal melasma), or a combination of both (mixed melasma).
Epidermal melasma is the easiest type of melasma to treat. However, there are effective treatments to help reduce dermal and mixed melasma as well.
Sun spots—also known as solar lentigines—are caused by sun damage (photo damage) from years of exposure to the sun. These are usually small, flat, dark brown patches typically found on the face, chest, back of the hands, and other areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. Unlike freckles, sun spots do not fade in winter.
Sun spots are also mistakenly referred to as liver spots or age spots. However, age spots are not the same type of hyperpigmentation.
Age spots—or senile lentigines—are the product of a different pigment than melanin, called lipofuscin. Lipofuscin is the result of an accumulation of cellular waste. It is oxidized skin lipid that will turn yellow or brown.
While it can be difficult to differentiate sun spots from age spots, an experienced skin care practitioner can do so with a UV light scope.
Best Hyperpigmentation Treatment Methods
The following are the best skin care treatments based on the type and severity of hyperpigmentation.
Best Treatment Method for Melasma: Chemical Peels and Laser Therapy
Chemical peels or Vitalize peels remove unwanted melanin from the skin through exfoliation. After the application of a controlled chemical solution—such as lactic acid, salicylic acid, resorcinol, retinoic acid—to the skin, the dead skin cells will shed off and reveal new skin.
Intense Pulse light (IPL) laser therapy is useful to target pigment at different levels in the skin, making this the best treatment for melasma that affects deeper layers of skin. The laser and energy from the light will precisely target and shatter the melanin pigment based on its depth in the skin.
Best Treatment Method for Stubborn Spots: Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are effective for treating stubborn sun spots by providing an enhanced exfoliation. Chemical peels can help repair sun damage and prevent damage accumulation by peeling away the outer layer of skin (epidermis), while deep peels dissolve the bonds that hold the dermis cells.
SkinCeuticals chemical peels use alpha-hydroxyl acid (AHA), glycolic acid, and salicylic acid to exfoliate skin, stimulate collagen production, and increase cellular turnover.
SkinMedica Vitalize Peels combines lactic acid, retinoic acid, resorcinol, and beta-hydroxy (salicylic) acid to exfoliate and stimulate skin regeneration. This peel can repair years of skin damage. However, for best results, 3 to 6 peels at monthly intervals are recommended.
Vivier Hyperpigmentation Programs are another effective way to treat stubborn hyperpigmentation. These programs combine a variety of skin care ingredients such as Hydroquinone 2% and 4% or Arbutinin suited to treat different skin type to reduce mild to severe hyperpigmentation.
Best Treatment Method for Sun Damage: IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy—also known as photorejuvenation—uses pulses of light to penetrate deep layers of skin and target red and brown pigments. This treatment stimulates collagen growth and skin regeneration for new, healthier skin.
Best Treatment for Major Discolouration That Will Not Respond To Other Treatment Methods: Fractional Laser Resurfacing
Fraxel Dual Laser Resurfacing in Ottawa is one of the best laser treatments for hyperpigmentation. The non-ablative Fraxel laser treatment uses tiny pulses of laser energy to penetrate deep into the skin, destroying dead skin cells and stimulating collagen growth. This treatment is effective for treating melasma, acne scars, brown spots, and age spot removal.
Will Hyperpigmentation Go Away?
Although it is almost impossible to make hyperpigmentation go away completely—hence the importance of prevention—with a specialized treatment plan, hyperpigmentation can be reduced significantly. You must maintain your results by taking care of your skin with a proper at-home skin care regimen and avoiding sun damage.
To ensure you get the appropriate treatment for your specific skin type and specific hyperpigmentation issue, don’t hesitate to come meet with us at our clinic in the ByWard Market. We will guide you in the right direction with a customized treatment plan suited to you and your skin.
Dr. Caroline Tosoni pursued her Medical Degree at McMaster University and completed her post-graduate medical residency in Family Medicine through the University of Ottawa in 1998. Fluently bilingual in French and English, she opened her medical practice in Ottawa in July of 1998. Since 2000, Dr. Tosoni has focused her medical practice on Cosmetic Dermatology and has received extensive training and obtained multiple certifications in various medical cosmetic enhancement procedures such as Phlebology, Botox® Cosmetic, Dermal Fillers, SoftLift,™ BeautiPhication,™ Belkyra injections, CoolSculpting,™ Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Laser Medicine. Dr. Caroline Tosoni is also proficient in the treatment of Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and Migraine Headaches with Botox® Therapeutic. In 2015, Dr. Tosoni’s practice officially received a Focused Practice in Dermatology designation by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and the Ontario Medical Association.