In this article:
- Hyperpigmentation on skin of color
- Effective treatment options for reducing hyperpigmentation on darker skin tones
Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that causes dark spots and discoloration to form in patches on the skin. It commonly shows up on the face, underarms, inner thighs, and legs.
The most common cause of hyperpigmentation, especially on lighter skin tones, is overexposure to the sun. Hyperpigmentation is present in all skin types, but it can be especially pronounced on black skin. Though darker skin tones naturally have more melanin, which helps to limit sun damage, PIH or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (hyperpigmentation caused by wound healing) is especially common on skin of color, with over 65% of African Americans experiencing symptoms. Freckles, rosacea, birthmarks, and sunspots are all different manifestations of hyperpigmentation that can appear anywhere on the body.
There are many things that can cause hyperpigmentation including:
Once dark spots appear, they are hard to remove without intervention by a dermatologist or over-the-counter topical products and supplements. In fact, it's likely the number one skin concern of black people and especially older people, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Treating hyperpigmentation is a delicate balance of obtaining results without irritating the skin, and stimulating PIH. Hyperpigmentation is not harmful, but many people seek to reduce spots and uneven skin tone without reducing their skin's natural pigment overall. Certain chemical peels and laser treatments meant to help treat hyperpigmentation can end up causing more harm than good for people of color, because the irritation from these procedures can then cause PIH.
Dr. Andrew Alexis, an expert dermatologist who specializes in treating skin of color, advised that in order to treat hyperpigmentation and specifically PIH, you need to first manage the source of inflammation, such as acne. Otherwise, it is like an endless circle of treating an area with an overproduction of melanin, but creating new hyperpigmentation in its place. Many brightening ingredients (such as hydroquinone) have mildly irritating ingredients which can have an impact on overall skin color, texture, and quality. Instead, the following gentle treatments are advised to holistically and delicately treat and prevent hyperpigmentation.
Effective treatments depend on the depth of the pigmentation, how broadly it has spread, and the primary cause of the pigmentation. Before you begin any of these treatments, consult a dermatologist, particularly one that is skilled in working with skin of color.