Skin Hyperpigmentation & Photo Aging

Hyperpigmentation refers to a condition that makes some areas of the skin darker than the rest thus resulting in uneven skin tone.

The patches can appear grey, black, brown, red or pink. The patches are commonly known as age spots or sun spot and they can occur anywhere in the body.

They can localize on one spot or spread all over the body. The darker patches of the skin are a result of excess melanin production.

Below are some of the examples of hyperpigmentation: -


There are different types of hyperpigmentation, the common ones being melasma, sunspots and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.


This is a common pigmentation disorder that causes brown or grey patches to appear on the skin.

It is believed to be caused by hormonal changes and may develop during pregnancy thus affecting any area of the body mostly the stomach and face.

Use of oral contraceptives may result in this disorder.


As the name suggests, this type of disorder is caused by prolonged sun exposure.

Generally, they appear as dark spots on the areas exposed to the sun like the face, hands and neck.

The greater your exposure to the sun, the greater your risk of increased skin pigmentation.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

This is a type of disorder can occur after the skin inflammation resulting from an injury, cuts, burns, acne or lupus.

It can occur anywhere on the body but sun exposure can make it more pronounced.


Depending on the type of disorder, these are the various causes of hyperpigmentation: -

  • Use of oral contraceptives as this result in hormonal changes
  • Pregnancy
  • Dark skin type. This type of skin is more prone to hyperpigmentation
  • Chemotherapy as this causes hyperpigmentation as a side effect
  • Skin trauma e.g. burn, cut etc.
  • Certain types of medications


When hyperpigmentation first appears, it is important to see a dermatologist for a definitive diagnosis as your symptoms could be caused by other skin conditions.

Once diagnosed, treatment seeks to decrease the production of pigment melanin and remove areas of excess pigment that already have appeared.

All in all, you should view hyperpigmentation treatment as a marathon, not a sprint. It can take weeks, months or years to achieve results.

Below are a few options to discuss with your dermatologist:

  • Retinols

Retinols chemically exfoliate your skin and help block the receptors that regulate how much pigment comes out of the skin.

They are derived from Vitamin A, and are among the oldest OTC skin care ingredients used.

Their small molecular structure allows them to penetrate deep into the skin and treat the layers below the epidermis.

Retinols can come in either a prescription or OTC formula. However, OTC versions tend to be weaker.

In addition, retinols can lighten your skin and improve the look of fine lines, wrinkles and discolorations. 

OTC retinols may be safe for all skin tones but you should double check with your dermatologist if you have darker skin and plan on using these products long term.  

  • Laser therapies

Intense pulsed light treatment is used for treating melisma using a broad spectrum of light to generate heat to target and remove pigment.

There are two types of lasers: ablative and non-ablative.

Ablative lasers are the most intense and they involve removing layers of your skin.

Non-ablative procedures on the other hand target dermis to promote collagen growth and tightening effects.

Both destroy elements of your skin to ensure that new skin cells grow back tighter and more toned.

Research shows that this treatment can improve hyperpigmentation in a short time, but relapse is often seen within three months.

Ablative lasers may work better for people with fair skin

  • Chemical peel

This method uses acids at stronger concentrations to treat the desired area of skin.

They reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by removing the top layer of your skin.

Deeper versions of this may also penetrate the middle layer of the skin to produce more dramatic results.

Chemical peels may also increase your risk of side effects which include

  1. Redness
  2. Irritation
  3. Blistering
  4. Infection
  5. Scarring
  6. Allergic reaction

If you are out in the sun on a regular basis, chemical peels may not be a good fit for you as they cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays.

  • Lightening creams

Lightening creams are over the counter treatments that work with selective ingredients to help decrease pigmentation.

Many of these creams are available in many forms in various stores.

They are usually applied once or twice a day to help lighten the skin over time. Topical treatments for lightening also come in gel form

Common ingredients found in OTC lightening products include: -

  1. Licorice extract
  2. Vitamin B-3 (Niacinamide) 

Lightening creams work best for flat spot.

Online retailers make it easy to access beauty and skin care products that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.

Be careful when you purchase from these retailers as only buy them from manufacturers and retailers you trust.


There are various ways how you can prevent hyperpigmentation. Among them being: -

  • Avoid direct sunlight. Try to stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10am to 2pm. Sit under a shade when you’re outdoors to minimize your sun exposure.
  • Use a hat. Shade your face and scalp with a wide brimmed hat.
  • Incorporate Vitamin C into your beauty routine. Vitamin C is a nutrient rich antioxidant known for its powerful skin brightening and antiaging capabilities that help neutralize free radicals and limit the damage caused by excessive sun exposure among other things.
  • Apply SPF (Sunscreen). Choose sun protection that is at least SPF 15 and use it daily even in the cooler months to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Limit touching your skin. Scratching or picking an acne or a spot can result in inflammation and lead to darker pigmentation on your face so it’s best to avoid touching your skin.
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