Hyperpigmentation is one of the most common skin issues that most of us have to deal with at least once in our lives. “Hyperpigmentation describes dark patches of skin that can form in small or large areas anywhere on the body,” explains Howard Sobel, MD, founder of Sobel Skin and attending dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. There are a few different types of hyperpigmentation, including melasma, age spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s exactly easy to deal with. In fact, sometimes it can be frustrating. That’s because hyperpigmentation can be caused by so many different factors, and there are many different ways to treat it, too.
So what exactly causes hyperpigmentation? Well, the possibilities are endless. “Acne, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis are examples of common skin disorders that leave hyperpigmentation behind once the inflammation is controlled or burns out,” says board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD. “Other dark spots, like sunspots and melasma, are induced due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation and sun.”
And one time of the year is prime for hyperpigmentation: Summer. “Everyone is outdoors, enjoying the warmer weather and sunshine, so you’re exposed to the sun more often (and in higher concentrations) in the summer compared to other times of the year,” Hartman says. “People also often forget that they need to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. If you apply sunscreen once in the morning but you are outdoors for five or six hours, your sunscreen protection has worn off by the end of the day and your skin will be more prone to UV damage, which includes hyperpigmentation.”
The good news is there are a few things you can do to avoid hyperpigmentation. “Ideally, you would prevent it from ever happening! All you have to do is wear sunscreen every day; never take hormones like birth control pills; and ensure your skin never becomes inflamed, never has acne, irritation, or injury,” says Heather D. Rogers, MD, founder, and CEO of Doctor Rogers Restore and co-founder of Modern Dermatology. “But we all know that all those things are not possible. So what you can do is wear your zinc-based sunscreen; be selective about your skincare products; and don’t pick when you do have acne or scratch when your skin itches because both those things can cause further injury. If you are having a procedure at a dermatology office, make sure you are prepared to protect your skin afterward to limit the risk of hyperpigmentation. If your skin is prone to hyperpigmentation, tell your provider before the treatment so they can take the necessary steps to limit your risk.”
Hartman adds that if you tend to have dark spots after acne (which is common in people with darker skin tones), you’ll want to treat the acne immediately and also incorporate exfoliating products into your routine, like retinol.