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Hyperpigmentation: How to Get Rid of It and Why it Takes Time to Fade

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When it comes to beauty, we all dream of flawless skin. And when it comes to skin nightmares, hyperpigmentation is right up there with wrinkles. Getting rid of it definitely takes some doing and the results aren’t immediate. But with a little patience and the right treatments, anything is possible.

Get ready, it’s time to face this beauty buster head on.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

By quite literal definition, “hyper” refers to more and pigmentation (in this case the melanin and colour that presents itself across all skin tones) happens due to the overproduction of melanin in the skin by melanocytes. In cases of hyperpigmentation, the affected area becomes darker than the skin around it. They are typically the result of acne blemishes, skin conditions (like eczema and psoriasis) and most commonly, the sun1.

Hyperpigmented patches of skin typically show up on the forehead, chin, cheeks, bridge of nose, and as mentioned, sometimes on the arms, legs and neck. Though this skin condition can take on many different forms, these are the most common.

  • Any abnormal discolouration/uneven appearance of skin could signal the beginning of a pigmented patch
  • Brown patches on skin
  • Patches that are symmetrical
  • Burning feeling in the affected area
  • Flaky/peeling skin in the affected area

How Does Hyperpigmentation Happen?

Those pesky aforementioned skin conditions boost the production of melanocytes which, in turn, increase melanin production in the skin. That excessive melanin gets dumped into the deeper levels of the epidermis, causing hyperpigmentation. As you can imagine, areas that are exposed to the sun are most at risk, including the face, arms and legs.

Hyperpigmentation is also an umbrella term that covers both post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which involves the discolouration of the skin that follows an inflammatory wound (think pimples)2. It also includes post-inflammatory erythema (think redness that won’t go away).

    What Are The Best Treatments For Hyperpigmentation?

    Luckily for those who are suffering, there’s a plethora of helpful options on the market today. The only thing is, with any hyperpigmentation treatment, results often take some time to achieve so patience is a virtue. Let’s have a look at the most popular treatments out there.

    Topical Treatments  These over-the-counter treatments can work wonders to help decrease pigmentation on most skin types. A lot of them are also available in prescription-strength forms and are typically applied once or twice a day to help lighten the skin over time. Some common ingredients found in lightening products include retinol, tranexamic acid, licorice extract, N-acetylglucosamine and vitamin B-33. Though they start working their magic right away, it can take up 3-4 weeks to start seeing results. 

    Professional peels – If you’re looking for something a little stronger for long-term pigmentation, chemical peels are where it’s at. More powerful and capable of yielding quicker results (in as little as 2 weeks!), they can also increase your risk of side effects, especially if you’re a sun worshipper. There are some highly effective at-home chemical peels that you can do yourself, or you can head to your dermatologist’s office if you prefer to leave it to the professionals. Just be forewarned, chemical peels cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays so if you don’t adequately apply sunscreen, it could actually worsen your hyperpigmentation. It’s best to speak to your dermatologist to see if peels are the right option for you4.

    Laser treatments ­­– Lasers work wonders at helping remove hyperpigmentation, one of the most popular being Intense Pulse Light therapy (IPL). Also referred to as a photofacial, IPL therapy stimulates collagen growth in the skin and works best for those with tones on the fairer side5. As we mentioned earlier, hyperpigmentation therapy takes time to achieve results and this one is no exception, as it requires multiple sessions. And since the sessions have to be spaced out a month apart, it can take 3-4 months to achieve the desired results.

    What Happens to the Skin Cycle After Chemical Treatment?

    You can take some comfort in knowing that hyperpigmentation can fade away, pretty much completely, over time. It can actually take from 3 to 24 months to hyperpigmentation to fully fade6, though in tough cases it could take even longer.

    The most important thing you can do for your skin after a treatment, is be gentle. Remember, your skin will be extremely vulnerable afterwards so no exfoliating, no sun (if you must, use a high SPF sunscreen and limit exposure as much as possible) and no skincare products that may cause further irritation, like retinols and alpha hydroxy acids.

    Once the peeling has stopped (after about a week or two) fresh skin cells will start to generate and you’ll likely start noticing some results. It’s a good idea to space treatments 1-2 months apart until desired results are achieved7. After that, you may need a little maintenance, especially if you enjoy hanging out in the sun a lot as hyperpigmentation can come back to rear its ugly head if you’re not careful.

    Though it’s not always possible to prevent hyperpigmentation, you can protect yourself from further outbreaks (or from making your current condition worse) by using sunscreen of at least SPF 30, wearing hats and avoiding the sun at its strongest (from 10am to 4pm). Certain medications can also affect hyperpigmentation so it’s a good idea to speak to a dermatologist before choosing a treatment option.


    References

    1. Callender, V.D., St. Surin-Lord, S., Davis, E.C. et al. Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Am J Clin Dermatol 12, 87–99 (2011). https://doi.org/10.2165/11536930-000000000-00000. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11536930-000000000-00000#citeas
    2. Davis, E. C., & Callender, V. D. (2010). Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of color. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology3(7), 20–31. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921758/
    3. Desai S. R. (2014). Hyperpigmentation therapy: a review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology7(8), 13–17. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142815/
    4. Sarkar, R., Ranjan, R., Garg, S., Garg, V. K., Sonthalia, S., & Bansal, S. (2016). Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: A Comprehensive Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology9(1), 49–55. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756872/
    5. Park, Ji-Hye MD; Kim, Jung-In MD; Kim, Won-Serk MD, PhDTreatment of Persistent Facial Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation With Novel Pulse-in-Pulse Mode Intense Pulsed Light, Dermatologic Surgery: February 2016 - Volume 42 - Issue 2 - p 218-224 doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000627 Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26808182/
    6. Kubba R, Bajaj AK et al. Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation in AcneIndia Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology.2009;75(7):54. Retrieved from: https://ijdvl.com/postinflammatory-hyperpigmentation-in-acne/
    7. Cavallini M, Montanaro F, Papagni M. A Topical Depigmentation Program Against Hyperpigmentation Enhances the Benefits of Previously Performed Chemical Peeling Procedures of the Face. Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2020 Nov-Dec;71(6):385-397. PMID: 33413783. Retrieved from: https://europepmc.org/article/med/33413783