What is Hyperpigmentation?
The term hyperpigmentation is a broad term that refers to any darkening or discoloration of the skin. It results from the stimulation of melanocytes, the pigment-making cells of the skin, which in turn increases the amount of pigment released into the skin. Hyperpigmentation can be triggered by a plethora of causes.
What Is Melasma?
Melasma is a more aggressive variation of hyperpigmentation. It appears as dark, irregular, blotchy patches. They are much darker and occupy a larger area than ordinary freckles and tend to appear most often on cheeks, nose, and upper lip. They may also appear on your forehead or chin, or in places with a lot of sun exposure, such as necks, forearms, and shoulders. Melasma is not a serious condition, though it may make you self-conscious since the patches are usually very visible.
Some known causes that you may not have considered include:
If you find your bra constantly unfastening, the straps digging into your shoulders, or it cutting into that area below your armpits...it’s time to get a professional bra fitting! The constant friction of your bra rubbing your skin can cause hyperpigmentation referred to as “bra burn.” In the meantime, it can be treated with a topical hydroquinone cream or chemical peel.
While exposure to UV rays has long been known to cause or worsen hyperpigmentation and melasma, you may not realize the many ways you are being exposed to these harmful rays. Did you know UV rays can penetrate through your car window? Additionally, UVA rays are still present during the winter months and even reflect off of snow more than sand. Regular use and reapplication of sunscreen are imperative to preventing both hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Subjecting your skin to a concentrated amount of heat repeatedly can cause just as much damage as UV rays. It’s scary but true! Studies have shown participants of hot yoga five times a week, suffered from discoloration and redness. Research shows it only takes heat exposure three times a week for just 30 is enough to cause hyperpigmentation after six weeks.
Other Known Causes of Melasma and/or Hyperpigmentation Include:
Thyroid Problems- Incidences of melasma may increase in people with thyroid conditions. Thyroid disease has a lasting impact on hormone levels, especially those related to stress and your immune system.
Genetics- Darker complexions, such as skin types belonging to African, Asian, or Hispanic descent, are more likely to experience melasma due to hormonal influences along with exposure to more UV rays in warmer climates.
Birth Control- Hormones and hormone treatments play a big role in the appearance of melasma. Anyone undergoing hormone treatments, including fertility or birth control may experience the appearance of melasma as a result.
Prolonged Use of Laptops- The warmth radiating from your laptop to your thighs can result in a form of hyperpigmentation called “erythema ab igne,” which appears as net-like patches of discoloration. Try using a laptop cooling pad to avoid it if you use your laptop for prolonged periods of time.
Mobile Phone- There is some evidence that the condition may also be triggered or stimulated by exposure to blue light, such as the LED light of your phone.
Hyperpigmentation can successfully be treated with products containing brightening ingredients like Vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinamide, hydroquinone, and azelaic acid. Melasma, on the other hand, is a condition that can be very difficult to recognize and treat. At present, most effective treatments include avoiding sunlight with sunscreens, treatment with chemical peels or laser therapy, (avoiding ILP, which can make the melasma darker) or dietary changes. Corticosteroids are the most common treatment, usually in a gel or cream.
Because melasma is thought to be hormonal, hormone treatment therapies are currently in testing phases. Nothing is definitive yet, but dermatologists are hopeful they will see some change in the treatment of this often misunderstood condition.