What You Don't Know About Hyperpigmentation

If you notice that you have skin discoloration or dark spots, you may have hyperpigmentation Although hyperpigmentation is almost never harmful, it can affect your self-esteem and be a sign of other underlying health conditions. To find out more about hyperpigmentation, read on.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is whenever there are darker areas of the skin. They often look like little spots or patches. The immediate cause for hyperpigmentation is changes to melanocytes. In case you are unfamiliar, melanocytes give skin its color. Even though melanocytes are the immediate cause, there are often underlying reasons that lead to their changes, which we will discuss later.


Though most people call all discoloration hyperpigmentation, there are three different types of hyperpigmentation: postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), melasma, and sun spots.

Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation

PIH is the most common form, and it occurs after some type of wound or injury causes an inflammatory response. Acne, eczema, psoriasis, and scars are all inflammatory conditions that can lead to hyperpigmentation.


Melasma is more common in females with darker complexions, but it can be found on all skin types. The exact cause for melasma is unknown, though studies suggest that hormone changes from pregnancy are often the culprit.

Sun Spots

Sun spots, also known as age spots and liver spots, are common in middle-aged people and older. The older you get (due to more skin exposure), the more sun spots that appear. As the name suggests, sun spots are due to sun exposure, which causes DNA damage.


The immediate cause for hyperpigmentation is changes to the melanocytes, but many reasons could prompt a change. Something as simple as sun exposure may cause hyperpigmentation, while something serious like lupus can also be a cause. Here is a list of the most common causes of hyperpigmentation:

  • Underlying illnesses
  • Inflammatory wounds
  • Hormone changes
  • Sun exposure
  • Exposure to certain drugs, chemicals, or heavy metals


If you think that you have hyperpigmentation, it’s best to go to the doctor, especially a dermatologist if able. The doctor will diagnose hyperpigmentation simply by examining the spots and talking through your medical history. Depending on the examination, the doctor may perform a skin biopsy by removing a piece of the area.


If you have an underlying illness causing your hyperpigmentation, such as lupus, the doctor will treat that first. If not, they will likely prescribe you medicated prescription creams. These creams often contain hydroquinone, which lightens skin and slows down melanin production. Most medications take 3 to 6 months to see any results.

If you don’t go to the doctor, there are many over the counter options. These creams and products will do much of the same work, but they will be more affordable and less irritating. Depending on the product, it may take longer to see results.

In-Office Treatments

For severe hyperpigmentation, you can visit a specialist to perform certain in-office treatments. Chemical peels, laser treatments, or micro-needling are all good options. Of course, these options will be much more expensive than medications and creams.

Do I Need to See a Doctor?

Most likely, your hyperpigmentation is completely harmless. If you notice other symptoms like fatigue or weight loss, in addition to hyperpigmentation, however, you should visit your doctor to rule out any serious underlying conditions. If you only notice hyperpigmentation, over the counter product should work just fine, saving you time and money from a doctor visit.


Hyperpigmentation is normally harmless, but it can devastate your self-esteem and be a sign of other illnesses. Treat the hyperpigmentation using topicals and wearing sunscreen. If you do that, you will start to see improvements in your skin!