Hyperpigmentation Explained: How to Deal with Dark Spots and Acne Scars

While most of us deal with some degree of hyperpigmentation, most men would also fall short when defining overall skincare condition. That’s because we don’t rank a month-old acne mark alongside freckles. Melasma is very different from a newly sprouted mole. And yet all of these things are, by definition, hyperpigmentation.

It’s easy to separate these things into their respective categories, especially when it comes to covering them. (Some of them, like these freckles, don’t need to be “treated” at all.) And this segmentation is why it’s difficult to get a unified view of “hyperpigmentation” as a whole. The same vitamin C serum you use on an acne mark will do nothing for a mole.

But it’s also important to understand hyperpigmentation in its entirety, as it’s a condition that only becomes more common with age. And if you know all of this, you’ll also know how to slow down its progression and notoriety (so that those occurrences are a little more “hypo” and a little less “hyper”). These scars and marks heal faster. These birthmarks are less common. And so forth.

For a top-down look at hyperpigmentation and to help build your defenses against it, we spoke to NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green. Here is her insight, along with the strategies she uses with her own patients.

What is hyperpigmentation?

For starters, hyperpigmentation is a pretty vague term. “Hyperpigmentation is a general term used to describe patches of skin that are darker in color than the rest of the surrounding skin,” says Green. “Skin color is related to a substance called melanin, which is produced by skin cells to protect against harmful UV rays. When skin cells are damaged or unhealthy, too much melanin can be produced, making that area appear darker. Increased sun exposure causes an increased amount of melanin in the skin, causing the skin to darken or ‘tan’.” A tan is usually considered to be a good thing aesthetically, but when these patches are uneven, people may feel like there’s a problem to have .

As for the cause, that’s also a mixed bag. “While dark spots on the skin can develop for a variety of reasons, one of the most common contributing factors is overexposure to the sun. Some of the other factors that can influence the presence of hyperpigmentation are fluctuations in hormone levels, a genetic predisposition to hyperpigmentation, the healing process associated with an inflammatory wound (like acne), and skin damage from laser treatment.” Regardless of the cause, Green says, ” You will know you suffer from hyperpigmentation when you notice areas of discolored or darkened skin that cause uneven skin tone.”

Green says anyone can experience hyperpigmentation. “It can occur in people of any skin tone and type, and depending on the underlying cause of the hyperpigmentation, it can occur at any age.” But it becomes more common with age: “Over time, melanin can clump together and cause ‘age spots.’ . As you age, your skin becomes thinner and drier, making it more prone to developing scaly patches and discoloration. With increased sun exposure, the amount of melanin is stimulated and the result is photodamage, sun spots and an increased risk of skin cancer.”

Hyperpigmentation Explained: How to Deal with Dark Spots and Acne Scars

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