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What is hyperpigmentation?

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.

Types of hyperpigmentation

There are several types of hyperpigmentation:

  • Melasma is believed to be caused by hormonal changes and develops during pregnancy. Areas of hyperpigmentation can appear on any area of the body. They appear most commonly on the abdomen and face.
  • Sunspots, or solar lentigines, are common. They’re related to excess sun exposure over time. Generally, they appear as spots of hyperpigmentation on areas exposed to the sun, like the hands and face.
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a result of an injury to the skin.

What are the symptoms 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.

What are the risk factors for hyperpigmentation?

Sun exposure can increase melanin production. Greater exposure to the sun increases the risk of developing hyperpigmentation.

What causes 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.

How is hyperpigmentation diagnosed?

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.

How is hyperpigmentation treated?

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.

What is the outlook for 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.

How is hyperpigmentation prevented?

It’s not always possible to prevent hyperpigmentation. Using sunscreen can help. Avoiding certain medications may also prevent hyperpigmentation.

Content licensed from:

Written by: MaryAnn DePietro
Medically reviewed on: Oct 31, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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