If you have ever stood in front of the mirror and obsessed over some patches darker than your normal skin tone, you are looking at what is called Hyperpigmentation. It can be really stubborn and could seem like it just wouldn't fade away. It is a harmless skin condition in which the skin pigment melanin is produced in excess, resulting in dark spots that are darker than the surrounding skin.
Before we jump into the reasons for hyperpigmentation, let’s get nerdy about the process of melanin production in our bodies.
The basic color of the skin comes from the complex process of melanin production in our body.
Melanin is a pigment made by a type of cell in our body called melanocytes through the process of melanogenesis (the production process of melanin). This process acts as a part of the barrier defense system of the skin. Melanosomes, a tiny round pod within melanocytes are the first place where melanin is produced. Melanocytes are present in the bottom layer of the skin.
Once melanin is produced in the melanosome, it is transported to keratinocytes(cells present on the outermost layer of the skin called the epidermis) to induce pigmentation. The production of melanin is stimulated by Ultra Violet exposure in melanosomes.
Pigmentation is 2 types Constitutive pigmentation (skin color from birth) and Facultative pigmentation (color induced through external factors)
Facultative pigmentation is what we refer to as Hyperpigmentation
- Immediate pigment darkening (IPD), occurs within minutes of UV exposure. In this type, rather than the occurrence of excess melanin production, oxidation of melanin is triggered by UV radiation. Oxidation is the reason why the outermost layer of the skin color changes to dark brown.
- Delayed pigment darkening ( DPD ): Immediate Pigmentation Darkening (IPD) occurs within a few hours of going into the sunlight, whereas DPD follows in about two or three days which is in fact, called tan. This delayed tan occurs when there's extra melanin production due and an increase in the melanocytes count.
- PIH ( Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation)- Can be characterized by discoloration of the skin after a wound heals. These are basically dark spots & marks left behind after an inflammatory response. PIH persists for a longer time in darker skin types than in lighter skin types. Furthermore, when exposed to UV rays, this form of pigmentation can darken.
- PIE( post-inflammatory erythema) - These are the red or pink spots that result from experiencing acne or any type of inflammatory trauma to the skin. This is experienced by fairer skin types. Post-inflammatory erythema happens when blood flow is stopped during the inflammation stage. Inflammation, blood vessel dilation, and any damage to those blood vessels can cause the red or pink marks that appear on the skin. Your skin tends to be thinner as it heals and this might make erythema worse.
Solar lentigines or age spots - This can be usually seen in people over the age of 40. It results from repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, hormonal changes, antibiotics, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs amongst others, which can also stimulate the production of melanin.
It's imperative to know the cause for hyperpigmentation before settling on a treatment plan to a) ensure that it works, b) there are myriad of reasons for hyperpigmentation, some of them are :
INTERNAL TRIGGERS -
- Hormonal changes: Melasma is a condition where large patches of hyperpigmentation are seen mainly on the face due to hormonal changes for example, during pregnancy, owing to excess production of female hormones, Estrogen, and Progesterone, which in turn marks the excess production of Melanin. Other factors may also include the use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.
- Cellular aging: Pigmentation can also be caused due to the aging of the cells(melanocytes) which usually happens to adults over 40. Cell aging will result in abnormal production of melanin.
- Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency: This type of hyperpigmentation can be caused by cellular(melanocytes) malnourishment. Melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) are branched, or dendritic-like neurons. These dendrites are used to transfer the pigment melanin to adjacent epidermal cells. When melanocytes are malnourished that will result in short dendrites and the distribution of the melanin to keratinocytes is affected due to the essential amino acid deficiency. The most common outcome is a darker patch, which can range in size from a small spot to larger areas, depending on the health of the localized melanocytes.
- Medication: Your medicines can also be responsible for hyperpigmentation. For example, antimalarial medicines and tricyclic antidepressants are commonly known to contribute to this skin condition.
- DNA damage: DNA damage of the melanocytes can be caused due to exposure to UV radiation when you go unprotected into the sun. This results in the synthesis of more melanin. DNA damage by sun exposure can result in IPD.
- Wrong cosmetic product: There's a plethora of variety available in the market for cosmetics and skincare products. One can easily be tempted to try out whatever new makeup or serums are in trend. But sometimes, the chemical formulation of these said products may lead to Hyperpigmentation.
The other external factors that cause hyperpigmentation are UV exposure, Wounds that do not heal quickly.
Hyperpigmentation can be a life-altering condition, not a life-threatening one but you should identify and treat it in the initial stages. Therefore, once you see the signs of hyperpigmentation, you should include skin pigmentation products in your skincare regimen. If you are not able to treat it, consulting a dermatologist immediately would be the right thing to do.