Having a spattering of freckles across your cheeks or nose is cute when you’re a teenager. But, as you get older and dark spots start to appear in unexpected places, you might not think it’s so cute. Hyperpigmentation can happen when your body produces too much pigment, or melanin. Usually, it’s producing extra pigment in response to inflammation or irritation, such as exposure to the sun.
Correcting hyperpigmentation is usually a two-pronged approach. You want to find a treatment that will help fade the dark spots. You also want to learn how to prevent it from developing further.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation can take several forms. It can be in one area of the body or spread throughout the body. The cause of the pigmentation also determines its type. For example, one common type is known as melasma. Melasma typically occurs in a specific area, such as on the face. It causes a darker patch to appear on the skin.
Common locations for melasma to appear include the forehead, cheeks and nose. It’s more likely to occur in women, although some men develop it. Often, it’s caused by changing hormone levels in the body, caused by pregnancy or birth control pills. It can also be triggered by sun exposure or by certain cosmetics. While the pigmentation doesn’t cause any other physical distress, it can make you feel unhappy with the way you look.
Lentigines are another type of hyperpigmentation. They are simply freckles that develop as a result of sun exposure, compared to freckles that a person is born with. Lentigines are also sometimes called liver spots or age spots. They might have something to do with age, but they have nothing to do with the liver. Like Melasma, lentigines are usually harmless, but can make you dissatisfied about your appearance
If you are bothered by hyperpigmentation, one way to treat it is to undergo a chemical peel. Chemical peels exfoliate the outer layer of skin, which encourages the production of new skin cells. Hyperpigmentation is just one skin concern that responds to a chemical peel. The treatment is also effective for wrinkles, scars and general skin dullness.
Peels aren’t one-size-fits-all. Your doctor can help you choose the right strength of peel based on your skin type and needs. Usually, a medium strength peel is effective at reducing dark spots while a light or mild peel might not give you the results you want or may require multiple treatments. If you have a lot of wrinkling, deep scars or extensive hyperpigmentation, a deep peel, which requires sedation, may be needed.
Laser Skin Resurfacing
A chemical peel helps reduce dark spots by removing the top layer of skin. Laser resurfacing works in a similar way, except instead of “peeling” the skin, the laser damages and destroys the top layer of skin. The device uses intense light and heat to target water molecules in the skin, essentially vaporizing it. New skin cells have the opportunity to form, creating more even tone and texture.
One option, known as Fraxel, offers a targeted treatment. During the procedure, a small hole is poked into your skin and the laser directed into the hole. Instead of focusing on the entire face, the treatment can focus exclusively on the areas of hyperpigmentation.
Since laser skin resurfacing works by destroying cells, there is some pain and discomfort involved. Fraxel treatments tend to have a shorter recovery time than all over carbon dioxide lasers, since just one part of the face is treated. How long your recovery takes also depends on the depth of the treatment. Usually, the deeper the treatment, the longer you’ll need for recovery.
Reducing Your Risk
Hyperpigmentation can return, even after treatment. Your best option is to take steps to reduce your risk for recurrence or for developing new spots. Shielding your skin from the sun is the best way to keep hyperpigmentation away. Always wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Try to avoid going out in the sun when it’s at its most intense, often between 10am and 2pm.
You’ll also want to avoid cosmetics and skincare products that are irritating, as an inflammatory response can often trigger melasma. The same is true for beauty routines such as waxing. Dr. Jessica Kulak at the Naderi Center can recommend the right type of skincare products to use to keep sun spots and melasma away.
Schedule an appointment with Dr. Kulak to learn which treatment option is best for your hyperpigmentation. Call her office at (703) 481-0002 in Virginia or (301) 222-2020 in Maryland today.