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Hyperpigmentation is a condition that causes the skin to darken. It can occur in small patches. And it can cover large areas or affect the entire body. This condition usually isn’t harmful, but it can be a symptom of another medical condition.
There are several types of hyperpigmentation:
Darkened areas of the skin are the only symptoms of hyperpigmentation. Patches can be various sizes and can develop anywhere on the body.
Sun exposure can increase melanin production. Greater exposure to the sun increases the risk of developing hyperpigmentation.
A common cause of hyperpigmentation is an excess production of melanin. Melanin is a pigment that gives skin its color. And it’s produced by skin cells called melanocytes. Several different conditions or factors can alter the production of melanin in the body.
Certain medications can cause hyperpigmentation. Also, some chemotherapy drugs can cause hyperpigmentation as a side effect, according to the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Pregnancy changes hormone levels and can affect melanin production in some women.
Endocrine diseases, like Addison’s disease, disrupt hormone levels and can increase melanin production. A lot of sun exposure can also cause an increase in melanin.
A dermatologist can diagnose hyperpigmentation. They will take your medical history and give you a physical exam to determine the cause. In some cases, a skin biopsy can rule out skin cancer.
Topical prescription medication can treat some cases of hyperpigmentation. This medication usually contains hydroquinone, which bleaches skin. The medication can take a few months to lighten darkened areas.
Home care sometimes includes over-the-counter medications that may lighten dark spots. These medications don’t contain as much hydroquinone as prescription medications. Home care also includes using sunscreen.
Your doctor may also suggest laser treatment to reduce hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation is not harmful and usually isn’t a sign of a serious medical condition. In some cases, darkened areas of the skin fade on their own. In others, the dark spots fade with treatment. Even if treatment can’t completely reverse hyperpigmentation, it may improve the condition.
It’s not always possible to prevent hyperpigmentation. Using sunscreen can help. Avoiding certain medications may also prevent hyperpigmentation.
Written by: MaryAnn DePietro
Medically reviewed on: Oct 31, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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