Pigmentation is a term that refers to the color of the skin. The amount of melanin in the skin determines its pigment and the skin cells create melanin. Certain skin disorders can change the pigmentation of the skin and it can be difficult to reverse the effects, depending on how a person has experienced hyperpigmentation. When the skin is not regularly moisturized or has been exposed to the sun for hours at a time, the skin can sustain damage, including hyperpigmentation.
Some people may notice that they are developing brown, gray, or tan patches on their skin, and these patches can become more intense in color if exposed to the sun for long periods of time. The appearance of patches on the skin that are darker than the rest of the body is called hyperpigmentation. This skin condition affects both men and women and can happen to anyone of any skin color. However, hyperpigmentation is usually more common in individuals with naturally darker skin tones.
There are several treatments on the market for hyperpigmentation, as well as natural remedies that will restore the skin’s natural color and rejuvenate skin cells.
HOW DOES HYPERPIGMENTATION OCCUR?
When melanocytes, or the cells in the skin that produce pigment, start to make too much of this pigment, the result is hyperpigmentation. The dark patches of skin can form anywhere on the body. Inflammation or skin trauma can cause this condition, as well as a reaction to certain medications. An allergic or negative reaction to certain substances like plants, foods, or cosmetics can cause hyperpigmentation, as well. For instance, after a cut or burn has healed, the skin’s tissues can form a scar that is significantly darker than the rest of the skin on the body. People can also experience hyperpigmentation after a surgical incision or procedure. Individuals who have suffered from acne can sustain hyperpigmentation in the areas where breakouts used to form. Individuals who already have hyperpigmentation should avoid taking medicines that lead to this side effect, if possible, since the medication will only cause more dark spots on the skin. Chemotherapy and radiation can lead to hyperpigmentation, which is why cancer patients often use skin conditioning products to improve the health of the skin while undergoing cancer treatment. Liver spots, also called age spots, are also one of the most common reasons for dark sections of the skin.
Individuals with severely dry skin can sustain hyperpigmentation, as well. When the skin is starved of moisture due to conditions like eczema or psoriasis, the skin will be much darker in some areas.
People who have diseases of the endocrine system, such as diabetes and Addison’s disease, can also experience dark patches on the skin. The same is true for people who are insulin resistant or do not process glucose well. When the body is not properly utilizing and digesting sugars, this can prompt the melanocytes to become overactive in certain parts of the body, which leads to hyperpigmentation. Hormonal changes can cause some sections of the skin to appear darker than others, which is why some pregnant women develop hyperpigmentation. When the hormone levels return to normal after the baby is born, the dark spots can lighten.
DOES HYPERPIGMENTATION REQUIRE TREATMENT?
There are several reasons someone may choose to treat their hyperpigmentation. Dark patches of skin can significantly change a person’s appearance, so some may seek hyperpigmentation treatment for cosmetic reasons. There are also social and emotional reasons why someone may want to even their skin tone. Hyperpigmentation can sometimes be a side effect of a health condition or occur because of a burn or scar. In these instances, a person with hyperpigmentation may want to treat their skin to improve their self-esteem or restore the health of their skin. Hyperpigmentation itself is not a disease, but there are some conditions that alter the function of the skin’s cells and lead to patchy, uneven skin tone.
HOW IS HYPERPIGMENTATION TREATED?
In most cases, hyperpigmentation can improve over time, after the underlying cause of the condition has been diagnosed and properly managed. Exposure to the sun can make hyperpigmentation worse, so it is essential to add a layer of protection to the skin with sunscreen, even when staying outdoors for short periods of time. A treatment regimen that includes a daily sunscreen, moisturizer, and brighteners can be effective in reversing hyperpigmentation. Common ingredients that brighten the skin include kojic acid, tretinoin, hydroquinone, and vitamin C.
It is important to note that tretinoin and hydroquinone are popular medical spa treatments that are not completely natural. While these ingredients can lighten the skin and improve the overall appearance of the complexion, there are some drawbacks to using these substances. For both of these skin treatments, changing the topical formula could keep the ingredient from damaging the skin. For instance, some people who have a negative reaction to the gel form of hydroquinone or tretinoin may experience results if the main ingredient is in lotion form.
Tretinoin makes the skin extremely sensitive to the sun, so it is best to stay indoors while using this treatment on the skin, if possible. This is often the reason many skin care professionals suggest that tretinoin be used at night, so that the ingredient can penetrate and treat the skin without the harmful effects of sunlight. Tretinoin can also cause side effects in some individuals, including allergic reactions like swelling and redness. Extremely dry skin and a slight burning sensation are common for some people, as well, but this can sometimes be due to sun exposure while using tretinoin. Extremely rare side effects include trouble breathing and dizziness – if this occurs, it is best to discontinue the use of tretinoin and seek medical attention immediately.
Side effects of hydroquinone include skin dryness and redness, as well. Some people have inflamed skin after applying hydroquinone. This is an indication of an allergic reaction in most cases and requires prompt medical attention. This ingredient is usually found in skin lightening creams that are sold anywhere from beauty supply stores to high-end department stores. If dryness or burning occurs on the skin, alternative treatments are available.
Individuals who are using tretinoin to treat both acne and hyperpigmentation may notice that their skin gets worse before it gets better. This is largely due to the fact that the skin is purging and getting rid of impurities before revealing a new layer of skin. This purge is usually temporary and lasts for about a month before the condition of the skin starts to improve.
For individuals who do not see that their hyperpigmentation is improving after using a skin regimen for some time, there are other procedures that may be effective. Spa and dermatological treatments like lasers or intense pulsed light, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion can even the skin tone and lighten the darker areas of the skin.
There are a number of holistic treatments individuals with hyperpigmentation can take advantage of, as well. Remedies include using common household products that nourish the skin and boost the function of melanocytes.
TREATING HYPERPIGMENTATION AT HOME
There are ways to treat dark spots on the skin at home. These remedies will come in handy for individuals who prefer natural or herbal treatments for their skin or do not want to go through a series of medical procedures. Many of the home remedies that balance the tone and color of the skin are anecdotal, but there is some research that suggests that the main ingredients in these natural remedies do actually work. Here are a few suggestions.
Apple Cider Vinegar: This vinegar is effective for treating hyperpigmentation because it contains acetic acid, which can lighten dark marks of sections of the skin. To use apple cider vinegar as a skin treatment, mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water in a container and apply the solution to dark patches with a cloth or cotton ball. Leave the mixture on the skin for about three minutes. Rinse the solution off the skin with lukewarm water. Repeat this process twice a day until the dark marks change color to match the rest of the skin.
Aloe Vera: Aloe is rich in aloin, which is a natural compound that lightens the skin and works as a treatment for hyperpigmentation. Aloe vera is also a popular, natural treatment because it is non-toxic and has been proven to work, according to a study conducted in 2012. To use this remedy, apply pure gel from the aloe vera leaf directly onto dark areas before going to bed. Rinse the gel from the skin in the morning and repeat this process each day until the skin tone appears even. Aloe can also be applied to the skin before going outside, since the gel shields skin against sun exposure and can also treat sunburn by soothing the skin and restoring its moisture balance.
Red Onion: Red onion, also known as allium cepa, can be used for hyperpigmentation, as well. The extract from this vegetable is even available in many scar lightening creams. According to research, the dried skin from red onions can lighten the skin naturally and safely. The onion skin can be applied directly to the skin before a bath or shower or creams and serums with allium cepa can be used to effectively get rid of hyperpigmentation.
Green Tea Extract: According to several sources, green tea extract can lighten the pigment of the skin when used topically. Green tea extract is available at many natural grocery and health food stores. Green tea bags are also beneficial when applied to parts of the skin with minor hyperpigmentation, such as under the eyes or on post-acne blemishes. Simply steep a tea bag in boiling hot water for about five minutes, take the tea bag from the water, and allow it to cool. Rub the tea bag over dark spots or leave it on the eyes or face for a few minutes. This process should be completed twice a day for best results.
Vitamin C: This vitamin is essential for skin health and, if taken internally, can shield the skin from free radicals that cause aging. However, vitamin C can also be applied topically to improve the condition of the skin. Using a little lemon or grapefruit juice with facial toner or a natural toner, like witch hazel, can treat dark spots naturally. Adding the juice from citrus fruits to salt and sugar body scrubs can also serve as an effective treatment for getting rid of hyperpigmentation on the face, as well as areas of the body with tougher skin, like the knees and elbows.
Milk: Milk products, including whole and sour milk and buttermilk, have all been shown to lighten the skin because of the lactic acid in these foods. Applying milk topically helps to even skin tone and promote exfoliation. Soaking a cotton ball in milk and rubbing it on dark patches of the skin until the skin lightens is the best way to utilize this treatment.
Black Tea Water: An animal study published in 2011 revealed that black tea water lightened hyperpigmented spots on guinea pigs. The water was applied to the animals twice a day, six days a week, for a month. For this treatment, loose black tea is best. Add a tablespoon of the tea to a cup of boiling water and steep for two hours for a more intense effect. Strain and remove all the tea leaves. When the tea cools, place a cotton ball in the tea to soak up the solution and apply the tea to dark areas of the skin twice each day. Repeat this process daily, six days a week, for a total of four weeks.
Tomato Paste: According to a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, tomato paste, which is a source of lycopene, protects the skin against the long and short-term effects of photo damage. Those who participated in the study ate 55 grams of tomato paste in olive oil every day for three months.
Licorice Extract: This extract has active ingredients that have been proven to lighten hyperpigmented areas, especially if the skin is darkened due to sun exposure and melasma. Topical skin creams that contain licorice extract are available.
Orchid Extract: The extract from orchid flowers can be just as effective as vitamin C for treating hyperpigmentation, according to research. Applying orchid extracts to the skin for two months made dark patches smaller and improved the overall appearance of the skin. Orchid extract can be applied directly or can be found in skin care products such as creams, scrubs, and masks.
Red Lentils: Masoor dal, also known as red lentils, can treat hyperpigmentation, as well. Making a mask out of these mashed lentils can lighten the skin and protect it from further damage, since the lentils are high in antioxidants. To make a red lentil mask, soak lentils overnight in a bowl of water and use a blender to turn the lentils into a paste. Apply the lentils over the face and allow it to set for 20 minutes. Rinse the mask from the face and pat the skin dry with a towel.
In most instances, hyperpigmentation is a cosmetic issue and may be an indication of a health issue but is not a serious medical condition. However, if hyperpigmentation is severe, it can lead to confidence issues, which is why it should be treated as safely and effectively as possible. Eating a diet filled with antioxidants can reduce the chances of hyperpigmentation. Shielding the skin from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays can maintain skin health, as well. Exfoliating regularly keeps skin tone even and sloughs off dead skin cells that can darken areas of the body if left on the skin’s surface for too long. Using a moisturizer after cleansing the face in the morning and at night can balance the function of the skin cells and maintain the tone of the skin. Natural treatments do work to treat hyperpigmentation, but are often more effective if they are used at the first sign of dark spots or even before skin darkening occurs.
“How to Treat Skin Hyperpigmentation Naturally.” healthline.
“HYPERPIGMENTATION.” American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
Having over 30 years of experience in the skin care industry, Tamra Page, L.E., master aesthetic trainer at Advance-Esthetic, has both learned about and educated on some of the most advanced techniques in the field. With a background in product formulations for private labels, spa ownership, medical aesthetics, and master aesthetics education, her passion for merging science and skin care has brought her to the position she holds today as a certified Advance-Esthetic and Zemits master educator.