Hyperpigmentation occurs when patches of skin become darker than the normal surrounding skin. The darkening of the skin is related to the amount of melanin being produced in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin its color. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin. We all have the same number of melanocytes, but those melanocytes produce different amounts of melanin. That is why humans have varying skin colors.
Being overexposed to both UVA and UVB rays causes melanocytes to produce too much melanin which results in dark spots, also known as sunspots. Hormonal changes also can play a part in the formation of hyperpigmentation on the skin. This type of hyperpigmentation is classified as melasma, or dark patches that appear on the skin. The mask of pregnancy is a condition commonly experienced by pregnant women where splotchy pigmented areas appear on the face. These darkened areas are due to hormonal levels fluctuating in the body. Women who take birth control pills may also develop hyperpigmentation. Individuals who have dealt with acne may also experience post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is described as the dark or red spots that are left after acne lesions have healed. Picking and popping papules/pustules can damage the skin and cause scarring to develop which results in an uneven skin tone.
There are several treatments offered to improve overall skin tone and to help reduce hyperpigmentation. Topical treatments such as retinoids and hydroquinone are prescribed to clients suffering from pigmentation problems. There are also many non-hydroquinone lightening products on the market as another treatment option. Retinoids are a form of vitamin A and they reduce hyperpigmentation by accelerating epidermal exfoliation or the sloughing off of epidermal cells. Just like retinoids, many acids are used to exfoliate and turn over the skin. These acids are known as AHA’s or alpha hydroxy acids and include glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid. Antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, and E are also effective in treating hyperpigmentation. Obtaining these vitamins from foods and supplements can help with pigmentation as well as applying products topically that contain these antioxidants. Hydroquinone is one of the most effective skin lightening ingredients available on the market. It works by decreasing the formation of melanin in the skin. Hydroquinone is also one of the most controversial ingredients out there as well because research has shown it acts as a carcinogen. Further studies are being conducted on hydroquinone to evaluate the health related effects of this ingredient. The most important thing to remember, especially while using these products, is to apply your sunscreen! Wearing an SPF every single day is a necessity, even during the winter months. While using retinoids and acids, your skin is very sensitive to UVA/UVB rays so keeping your skin protected is a must. If you are going to invest in the correct products for your skin, you need to also protect your skin from the sun at the same time.
Chemical peels, hydrofacials, and microneedling are also excellent ways to improve skin tone and to help reduce hyperpigmentation. Lactic acid and glycolic acid peels are very common and usually don’t require much downtime. Chemical peels allow exfoliation of the skin resulting in increased cell turnover. With increased cell turnover, hyperpigmentation will gradually improve over time as the skin begins to slough off. Hydrofacials incorporate microdermabrasion along with serum infusion to help treat your skin based on its specific needs. Microdermabrasion removes the outermost layers of dead skin cells allowing for serums to penetrate deeper into the skin. A hydrofacial with a lightening serum infusion would be an excellent option for an individual looking to treat hyperpigmentation. Microneedling is a minimally invasive skin-rejuvenation procedure that involves the use of a device containing fine needles. The needles are used to puncture the skin which then triggers the body to produce new collagen and elastin to fill the microscopic wounds. Whether it be a chemical peel or a hydrofacial, multiple treatments are needed for maximum results. Hyperpigmentation will improve in time with a continuous series of treatments.
Light therapy and laser treatments are other options for treating hyperpigmentation. Most topical treatments take a considerable amount of time to suppress pigment so clients then turn to light therapy and lasers for help. Broad Band Light (BBL) is used to treat sun damage, age spots, wrinkles, broken capillaries and rosacea. Intense pulses of light are used to penetrate deep into the skin to help decrease redness, lessen the appearance of pigmentation, reduce pore size, and improve skin texture and fine lines. BBL penetrates to a variety of levels in the skin which stimulates collagen production. A series of BBL treatments every four to six weeks is recommended for individuals looking to treat hyperpigmentation.
Fractional laser skin resurfacing treatments are a great option for not only hyperpigmentation, but also for improving overall skin health. Laser resurfacing is used to treat sun damage, hyperpigmentation, scars, wrinkles, skin tone and skin texture. There are multiple skin resurfacing treatments such as MicroLaser Peel (MLP), UltraLaser Peel (ULP), ProFractional-XC, and Halo-Pro. Both MLP and ULP include the use of lasers to remove the top layer of the skin which eliminates damaged cells. Fresh cells then grow and resurface as the skin heals. ProFractional-XC and Halo-Pro use a tiny laser radiofrequency beam to create microscopic channels in the skin, triggering the skin’s wound healing response. Once that response is triggered, new collagen is then formed. Collagen adds firmness to the skin as well as giving your skin a younger and more rejuvenated appearance. All of the above lasers can be used to treat wrinkles, scars, keratosis, sun damage, pigment irregularities, as well as poor skin tone and texture. Combining these treatments is a very effective way to treat multiple skin concerns at the same time. A very common treatment is a combination of both MLP and ProFractional-XC to tackle a variety of skin concerns at the same given time. Fractional laser skin resurfacing is a very effective treatment option for hyperpigmentation as well as many other skin concerns.