Hyperpigmentation is the darkening of an area of skin, compared to the normal surrounding skin. It is caused by an overproduction of melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin its natural color.
The resulting discoloration can cause a lot of distress for those who suffer from it. While this condition affects both men and women of all ethnic groups, it is more common in people with darker complexions.
Hyperpigmentation presents no medical threat, although it can occasionally be a symptom of an illness or disease. Therefore you should always see your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin, or you are concerned about dark patches.
There are several types of hyperpigmentation including lentigines (age or sun spots), post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (the dark marks left behind after inflammation such as acne) and melasma (brown patches caused by hormonal changes).
Topical Hyperpigmentation Treatment Options
Hyperpigmentation can occur as the result of too much sun exposure, age, use of certain medications and the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. Additionally, some cosmetic procedures, such as laser resurfacing, can actually make hyperpigmentation worse. The age spots that result from too much sun exposure generally occur on the face, hands, arms and chest.
In the past, the standard prescription and over the counter treatment for this condition was hydroquinone and it was believed to be the most effective and safest treatment for skin discoloration problems. However recent research has shown that there may be serious side effects associated with long term hydroquinone usage.
The main problem with being able to purchase products containing hydroquinone, over the counter (even though they only actually contain 2% hydroquinone), is the lack of monitoring by a medical professional. Because even at this low strength level, there are concerns regarding long term usage. In fact hydroquinone has already been banned in many countries and its future use is currently under consideration by the FDA in the United States.
As a result. many skin product manufacturers are now producing natural alternatives using ingredients such as kojic acid, licorice extract and arbutin; producing advanced skin lightening creams that are both effective and safe.
Kojic acid is produced by some species of fungi. Kojic acid works similarly to hydroquinone by suppressing the production of melanin and inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme. Kojic acid is said to be somewhat unstable and it will easily oxidize on contact with air and will also react with other chemicals if it’s exposed to sunlight. However this isn’t a problem as long as it is packaged and used correctly. It is an effective and far safer alternative to hydroquinone.
Topical retinoids are also commonly used for hyperpigmentation treatment. When used alone, they appear to be less effective and it can take up to six months to achieve results. Topical retinoids reduce skin discoloration by accelerating epidermal exfoliation.
Cosmetic Procedures to Treat Skin Discoloration
Chemical peels can work to significantly reduce pigmented lesions. Chemical peels are delivered in three levels of potency. The first level is available over the counter, while the medium and deep levels are administered by healthcare professionals. The superficial peels use mild beta or alpha hydroxyl acid in order to exfoliate the top layer of skin. This type of peel can improve mild blotchiness or skin discoloration. Bleaching agents such as kojic acid or hydroquinone are sometimes incorporated into a superficial peel to treat excess pigmentation.
The medium peel will feature a stronger concentration of trichloroacetic or glycolic acid in order to reach the middle and upper layer of the dermis. The medium chemical peel can effectively treat moderate discoloration, freckles and age spots. The strongest chemical peel will use phenol to penetrate the deepest layer of skin, which will allow it to address more severe skin discoloration issues.
While good results can be obtained with chemical peels, it is important to be aware that the recovery time can be quite long (especially with the strongest peels) and in the meantime you won’t be very pleased with how you look.
Cryotherapy treatment is mainly used for well localized or small hyperpigmented areas, or for lesions such as age spots. For smaller lesions, cryotherapy is very effective and more reliable than laser treatments. This type of treatment will also be less likely to cause side effects.
Some surgical options are also available for hyperpigmentation treatment. Skin grafting will involve a physician replacing discolored sections of skin with a normal piece of skin that’s taken from another area on the body. However, with this type of procedure you’ll risk the chance that the transplant won’t re-pigment or you can experience severe scarring. It is important to be aware that all cosmetic procedures carry some sort of risk.
Do Home Remedies for Hyperpigmentation Work?
Apple cider vinegar can work wonders on skin discoloration. To use this remedy, mix equal amounts of water with apple cider vinegar. Apply to the affected area using a cotton ball. Use two to three times daily for four to six weeks.
Vitamin E is commonly used to treat hyperpigmentation. Vitamin E will neutralize the effects of harmful ultraviolet rays and can protect and repair the skin. Open a vitamin E capsule and apply the contents directly to the affected area. For best results, use once daily until you experience the desired results.
Turmeric contains bleaching properties that can help to even out the skin. Turmeric can also keep the skin infection free. To use this remedy, mix one teaspoon of turmeric with one teaspoon of lemon juice. Apply the mixture to the affected area and allow it to sit for thirty minutes, then rinse off using cold water. Avoid direct sun exposure following this treatment. Use this remedy once daily for the best results.
Aloe vera is another remedy used for skin discoloration; however it’s typically only effective on mild forms of hyperpigmentation. Aloe vera is used for hyperpigmentation because of the presence of mucilaginous polysaccharides in the gel. It will work by promoting cell regeneration and will also remove dead skin cells. To use this remedy, apply fresh aloe vera gel onto the affected areas and leave it on overnight.
Check out our post here: How To Lighten Your Skin With Home Remedies, for more DIY remedies for treating hyperpigmentation skin problems. Including some methods that can show visible results in just a few days.
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