Jan. 31, 2013
Deborah Graham Warren

SUN DAMAGE RECOVERY: PART 2 Understanding Hyperpigmentation

sun damageYour skin is your largest organ. At The Skin Center, we strive to help you develop a healthy relationship with your skin. Our goal is not only to treat skin problems, such as hyperpigmentation, but to help you prevent them. And since knowledge is power, it helps to understand some skin basics.

The undisputed #1 cause of premature aging is “sun damage” which is the catch-all term for dry, wrinkly skin, often prone to “hyperpigmentation.”


Hyperpigmentation is the darkening of an area of the skin caused by the overproduction of melanin. Melanin is a pigment that is secreted by melanocytes. It’s what gives human hair, skin and eyes their color, based on thousands of years of adapting to a certain geographic location. Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people.

Our skin is made up of several layers: the hypodermis (inner), the dermis (middle), and the epidermis (outer). Melanin is located in the outer-most layer, the epidermis. It is here that the melanocytes produce the melanin, which results in the specific color of the skin.

Melanin also serves as our body’s natural sun protectant. When skin is exposed to long-term UV rays, melanocytes are triggered to produce more melanin.

Essentially, a “tan” is the skin trying to protect itself. Yet a tan frequently causes hidden damage that surfaces years later, in the form of splotchy patches of hyperpigmentation we sometimes refer to as age spots, sun spots or freckles.


Melanin is also responsible for the discoloration of the skin that can occur as a result of trauma from burns, cuts and acne lesions. These are wounds that heal over time, leaving behind post-inflammatory pigmentation.

Hormonal fluctuations can also be blamed for unwanted facial darkening, as commonly seen with melasma, also known as “the mask of pregnancy.”


Although hyperpigmentation (no matter the cause) is a benign condition, it can be very frustrating for men and women alike. For women, makeup can help provide some coverage. Yet, there are far more effective and lasting ways to reduce and remove the effects of too much melanin.

From least to most aggressive, treatments for hyperpigmentation include:

  • Topical suppressants: Hydroquinone and kojic acid calm the melanocytes that cause dark spots. They are frequently recommended prior to treatment with laser or light therapies.
  • Chemical Peels: A Chemical Peel stimulated the growth of newer, healthy skin by stripping away outer layers and dead skin cells.
  • Microdermabrasion: Microdermabrasion stimulates new skin growth by exfoliating the outer layers with a fine spray of tiny crystals.
  • Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL): IPL employs a broad spectrum of light, as opposed to a single wavelength emitted by lasers. IPL has little downtime and is effective for redness, rosacea and excess melanin (pigment) caused by sun damage. IPL uses a single wavelength of light that generally requires five or six treatments, but patients typically are pleased because there’s no downtime
  • Fraxel Laser Resurfacing: Fraxel uses a single wavelength laser beam to vaporize the skin’s outer layers. It dissolves molecular bonds and penetrates skin below the surface, stimulating collagen production. Once the skin heals, it appears brighter, softer, tighter and more even toned.


One word. SUNSCREEN!

As a writer and blogger for the The Skin Center, I’ve truly been enlightened about hyperpigmentation due to the cumulative effects of sun exposure that surface years later.

And like a reformed smoker (who has developed a highly vocal distaste for second-hand smoke) I now preach about sunscreen in an effort to save others from my freckly-fate. Numerous blogs have covered the need for broad-spectrum sunscreen as well as when and how to use it. So I won’t go into that here, except to say that we urge everyone—regardless of ethnicity, age or skin type—to use daily, year-round protection.

This is Part 2 of 4 in our SUN DAMAGE RECOVERY Series. Coming up next… Part 3: IPL, Chemical Peels and Fraxel

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