Everything you need to know about hyper- pigmentation

 

And what you can do to combat it. Carly Lewis investigates…

What’s the hype?
Though its name may make it sound more sinister than it is, hyperpigmentation is a very common and treatable skin condition. Simply defined as ‘excessive pigmentation of the skin’, it occurs when there’s an increase in melanin production. Since melanin is the pigment that gives colour to our skin, hair and eyes, hyperpigmentation can be characterised by dark spots and/or patches on the hands, face or body. Because of this, people with darker skin are more likely to suffer from it.

Bianca Estelle, skin specialist and clinical director of bea Skin Clinic, explains: ‘Of course hyperpigmentation affects all skin tones and types. Black skin, however, is more prone to it because the skin is already dark. And with increased production of melanin as a defence mechanism to trauma in the skin, the impact can be more noticeable.’

It’s a condition that can fall under two categories: passive pigmentation, which the National Pigmentation Clinic describes as being caused by an ‘internal imbalance’; and post inflammatory pigmentation (PIH), which occurs as a result of physical damage to the skin.

Cause and Effect
So what exactly causes this excess production of melanin? ‘Everyone is susceptible to it from sun exposure, hormonal changes, acne or botched skin treatments. Certain medications such as birth control can also trigger changes in the skin that result in hyperpigmentation,’ says Bianca Estelle.

In fact, adverse affects from sun damage affect darker skin far more than we’re often led to believe. Ask any dermatologist and they’ll tell you that this is a leading factor. After all, who didn’t grow up believing the myth that black people don’t need to wear sun cream? Dr Bhavjit Kaur, Director and Aesthetic Doctor at South East London’s Health & Aesthetics Clinic, says: ‘It’s more difficult to treat ethnic skin, because first of all, people don’t come regularly enough, and secondly they don’t wear sun screen which is really important. Around 80% of the ageing of the skin happens because of sun damage, but we don’t wear sun screen all the time. Even as children we’re not taught how to use sun screen, so the damage starts from a young age.’

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And it doesn’t stop there. Have you ever experienced irritation and dark marks on your neck? This could be hyperpigmentation caused by an allergy to your perfume. Or dark marks on your armpits – you may have noticed Serena Williams has the same problem – razors and deodorant chemicals could be to blame. Other areas commonly affected by excess pigmentation include the elbows, knees, and of course, the face where dark marks are most visible.

Famous faces like Kerry Washington, Keke Palmer and Alicia Keys have all battled with hyperpigmentation as a result of acne scarring, whilst lifestyle blogger Patricia Bright and make-up artist Jennie Jenkins, both hugely popular faces on YouTube, have been frank about using cosmetics to help even out their complexions.

Treatment Tips
Combating hyperpigmentation can be tricky but it is possible to achieve beautiful, blemish-free and even skin, a process which typically takes three cell cycles (up to 16 weeks). If you’d prefer to be treated by a specialist it’s important to make sure they have the relevant qualifications and experience so as not to cause any adverse reactions. Professional pigmentation treatments can include chemical peels and laser treatment, so it’s important that they’re done correctly. ‘My main recommendation would be to go to a reputable salon and don’t just keep peeling away at the skin, otherwise you could cause more damage in the long run,’ says Chloe Maundrill, skin aesthetician at Face the Future Advanced Skin Clinic in West Yorkshire.

(From left to right: Clinique’s Even Better Skin Tone Corrector Moisturizer SPF20 (£40/50ml), Ultrasun SPF 30 Anti-Pigmentation Hand Cream (£18/75ml), Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Eventone Dark Spot Corrector (£10.25/30ml), La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Serum (£29.50/30ml), Dermaceutic’s Yellow Cream – Depigmenting Concentrate (£36/15ml)

There are also options for those seeking solutions that they can try at home. ‘It’s really important to wear UVA and UVB sun protection,’ Chloe adds. Using depigmenting products enriched with the right ingredients can also make a difference. Dr Bhavjit Kaur explains, ‘It depends on whether it’s mild, moderate or severe pigmentation. If it’s mild PIH after acne, a burn or because of an injury, you can control it with vitamin A, vitamin C and sun screen.’

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Though it’s not possible to prevent the effects of passive hyperpigmentation, our own neglect is often the main source of our problems. The skin is the body’s largest organ and is the first thing that protects us from the dangers of the elements, so we should treat it with the utmost care. ‘I advise my clients of the importance of looking after their skin beyond treatments and products to prevent many conditions. So this means not picking or squeezing spots as tempting as this may be!’ recommends Bianca Estelle.

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