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What is Hyperpigmentation & What Causes Dark Spots on Skin?

What is Hyperpigmentation

Table of Contents:

    1. What is Hyperpigmentation?
    2. What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
    3. What Does Hyperpigmentation Look Like?
    4. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (aka PIH)
    5. Age Spots (aka Sun Spots or Liver Spots)
    6. Melasma (aka Pregnancy Mask)

Are you tired of the dark spots, blotchy patches, acne scars, and uneven tone on your face? Have you tried every dark spot corrector and hyperpigmentation treatment, but you’re still waiting for glowing, glass skin?

You are not alone! Hyperpigmentation and various types of dark spots that appear on the skin are one of the most common skin concerns worldwide. The global market of hyperpigmentation treatments was calculated in 2019 to be over 4.4 billion US dollars, meaning you and millions of other consumers are making decisions between even more millions of products, spending exponentially more millions of your own dollars with little to no guidance or education from medical or cosmetic professionals. 

Learn More: How to Treat Hyperpigmentation

If you have hyperpigmentation that you want to treat and manage safely and correctly, a board certified dermatologist with medical and cosmetic expertise can provide you the expert instruction, prescription medication, effective skincare, and cosmetic procedures you may need to unveil the skin of your dreams. Seeing a dermatologist, however, is not always an easy task; the average waiting time to see a dermatologist is 35 days or more… a long time to wait if you’re struggling with the emotional toll skin issues can carry! Board certified dermatologist Dr. Lily Talakoub created Derm to Door to revolutionize the skincare experience, bringing expert guidance to customers’ fingertips and your perfect routine of medical-grade skincare and prescription medication from computer screen to your doorstep in days. 

Click here to get a custom prescription to treat your hyperpigmentation!

What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation refers to excess pigment causing spots or patches on the skin to appear darker than the surrounding natural skin tone. Various medical conditions, skin issues, environmental factors, and even hormone imbalances can lead to hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. Understanding what kind of hyperpigmentation you have and its root cause by learning from medical professionals is key to finding the right treatment and maintaining an even skin tone effectively and safely over time. 

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

Most people struggling with dark spots are experiencing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) which appears after the skin is injured. Any trauma to the skin from acne or a full blown rash or burn causes inflammation as the body heals itself. Part of the skin’s natural healing process involves the production of melanin, the pigment that gives our skin and hair their color. After inflamed skin heals, excess melanin is left behind for weeks, months, or even many years depending on the severity. 

What Does Hyperpigmentation Look Like? 

What Does Hyperpigmentation Look Like

There are three types of hyperpigmentation that could be causing the brown spots on your skin: post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (also known as PIH), age spots (also commonly referred to as sun spots or liver spots), and Melasma (which is also known as pregnancy mask, but is not always caused by pregnancy). We will break down each specific type of hyperpigmentation below.

  1. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (aka PIH)

what does post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation look like

Most people with hyperpigmentation have PIH left over from acne (also commonly known as acne scars). In darker skin tones, post-acne marks will appear dark brown or purple-ish in tone, while lighter skin tones may have brown, purple, and red marks, also called post-inflammatory erythema (or simply skin redness). 

Acne, inflammation, and excess melanin production are all biologically linked, meaning breaking the acne cycle quickly while simultaneously treating PIH and preventing further inflammation must be your strategy. 

  1. Age Spots (aka Sun Spots or Liver Spots)

what do age spots look like

The sun is also a major factor that contributes to hyperpigmentation. Ongoing exposure to sunlight, especially UVB radiation (the kind that causes a sunburn), damages skin cells, causing them to produce excess melanin. 

Similar to the process that occurs when you freckle or get a tan, dark spots get even darker in the sun and new ones form as a result of sun damage. As natural aging progresses, hyperpigmentation may rapidly appear that can be traced back to sun damage in years past; most refer to this type of hyperpigmentation as “age spots”.   

Shop: Best Sunscreens to Prevent Age Spots

  1. Melasma (aka Pregnancy Mask)

what does melasma look like

The final and most complicated type of hyperpigmentation is a skin condition called Melasma, which appears as brown or gray-ish blotchy patches of discoloration concentrated on the cheeks, forehead, and upper lip. 

Connected to hormone fluctuation in the body, Melasma affects primarily women and and can occur in relation to pregnancy, hormonal medications like birth control or hormone replacement therapies, and certain medications with phototoxic or pigment-producing side effects. 

Research into Melasma is ongoing, and there is a lot we are still learning, like how eating blueberries daily actually helps reduce Melasma! About half of American women experience melasma while pregnant or on birth control; it’s so common that melasma is often referred to as the “pregnancy mask.” On top of the physical and emotional ordeal of pregnancy, postpartum depression, and a baby to take care of, accepting and addressing melasma can place an emotional strain that is real and impactful, but medical grade skincare for hyperpigmentation and prescription treatments combined with guidance from a dermatologist can make a profound difference in your mental health and your journey to clear skin; plus, blueberries are delicious!

Now that you know the different types of hyperpigmentation, what they look like, and what causes them, you’re one step closer to clear, even-toned skin! Check out our blog on how to treat hyperpigmentation and remember that you can always reach out to our staff at Derm to Door and Dr. Lily or one of our skincare experts can analyze your skin and create the perfect skincare regimen customized for your specific needs, including any prescription medication you may need! Call or text us at: 703-215-3087

Learn More About Common Skin Conditions:

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