What is Hyperpigmentation?
We're finally talking all-things hyperpigmentation. Let's start with clearing the air - hyperpigmentation is not a skin type. It is 100% a skin condition and may even help shed light on internal fluctuations we may be unaware of.
Hyperpigmentation is a big topic to tackle with various causes, treatments, and remedies. We believe the easiest way to go about sharing our knowledge to format into the W's of hyperpigmentation.
You remember the W's from school, right? We're talking about the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and sometimes How's.
Up first, WHO can get hyperpigmentation? Anyone. Yes, anyone, any age, and at any time can develop hyperpigmentation. It is not restricted to one age group, gender, or ethnicity more than the other. Although there are no real restrictions on who develops hyperpigmentation; however, there are ethnic groups more susceptible to it.
Now, WHAT exactly is hyperpigmentation? Without getting too deep into skin layers, we need you to understand that the epidermis is the top layer of skin and home to five different layers. The basal layer is the bottom of the top, and where you'll find melanocytes (cells responsible for producing pigment). Our skin cells work their way up through these layers until it gets to the very top and sheds, making room for the process to continue. But, why do we want you to know this? Keep reading - we got you!
Hyperpigmentation is the overproduction of melanin. Melanin is a brown pigment actively produced by melanocytes. Melanocytes could be considered one of the most important cells in our body, given they make up roughly 5-10% of the basal layer. They are responsible for offering a level of protection by absorbing or blocking UV* radiation. Remember: We may love fun in the sun because of warmth and tanning - right? But, the sun has damaging effects on our skin; it can cause damage to both our cells and their DNA. Now you can understand why tans occur? You have stimulated your melanocytes to produce more melanin to protect your cells from too much damage. Now, we've introduced you to one way you can develop hyperpigmentation OVEREXPOSURE to the sun. There are other means of developing hyperpigmentation from product usage, hormonal changes/fluctuations (internal factors), and trauma. We'll touch on this topic more in a separate blog.
*Side Note: This is why people believe that people of color and dark pigments do not need sunscreen because they produce more melanin. Please understand that although there's a valid reason for this belief, it is not true that people of color and dark pigments do not need sunscreen. All people, regardless of ethnicity or pigmentation depth, need protection from the sun.
So, WHEN does hyperpigmentation develop? It can develop at any point in time. There is no real time frame of when hyperpigmentation will develop. Depending on what is causing your pigmentation or why it's developing gives more insight on the matter. If it's a traumatic response due to injury or inflammation, it can develop within days or a couple of weeks. If it develops due to hormonal fluctuations or medication, it can take months; and, if it's due to over or extended exposure to the sun, it can take years.
As you can see, there is no real timeframe; therefore, preventative measures (when possible) are ideal and highly recommended!
We know your next question is - well, when will it fade or go away? Again, this is a question where we cannot give a specific answer nor timeline. It ultimately depends on the cause of hyperpigmentation and the depth of it. We'll talk more about this when introducing different types of hyperpigmentation and treatment options.
We're going to roll right on to WHERE you will or potentially can develop hyperpigmentation. If we're going, to be honest, you can develop hyperpigmentation anywhere you have skin—however, some areas are more prone or commonly known to develop it. We typically see it manifest on the face (cheeks, forehead) and body (arms, legs, belly, back). Other areas include but are not limited to the hairline, beard line, vaginal region, back of legs, buttocks, and so forth.
Let's identify WHY hyperpigmentation happens. Our body's ultimate goal is to achieve and maintain a level of homeostasis (balance | stable state). Therefore, our bodies will go to great lengths to protect, restore or eliminate to maintain a homeostatic state. Hyperpigmentation can be one example - sounds crazy, right? It can directly result from trauma, overexposure to the sun, or hormonal imbalances within the body.
We briefly touched on how our body attempts to protect us from the sun - it produces more melanin. That one is now understood! Regarding the other reasons (trauma/hormonal imbalance), we would have to break it down a little more. We'll do our best to keep it as surface level as possible. Remember, melanocytes are cells, and cells need to be triggered to grow, multiple, and divide. Still with us? When a traumatic event (i.e., injury or inflammation) or hormonal fluctuation/imbalance occurs, it can trigger reactions and responses in the body that tell melanocytes to produce more melanin. This reaction or response can be either short or long-term, depending on the duration (hormonal imbalances) or depth (traumatic injury). Therefore, melanocytes may temporarily produce more melanin if the triggers are removed/reduced quickly or reprogrammed continuously to make this new melanin amount if the trigger is not reduced/removed.
We've answered all the W's about hyperpigmentation, but now it's time to address HOW do we treat it? We've decided to take an entire blog to talk to you on how to treat hyperpigmentation. Various treatment options range from natural, holistic practices to naturally lighten dark marks/spots and chemical peels to physical/mechanical exfoliation methods.
With all of the Ws being covered and possibilities on how to treat it - we wanted to introduce different types/forms of hyperpigmentation you may experience, develop, or have seen:
1) Chloasma (liver spots)
2) Lentigo (freckles)
3) Melasma (pregnancy mask)
4) Nevus (birthmark)
We'll dive deeper into each type of hyperpigmentation in Different Types of Hyperpigmentation. We just wanted to introduce you and help you better understand the W's of hyperpigmentation.