What to know about hyperpigmentation on dark skin - SENSEOFREASONS

What to know about hyperpigmentation on dark skin - SENSEOFREASONS

Hyperpigmentation is a common issue in dark skin, characterized by an area of skin becoming darker than the surrounding skin. It is often more persistent and challenging to treat in darker skin tones compared to lighter skin tones.

Research from the Skin of Color Society reveals that over 65% of African American individuals experience symptoms of hyperpigmentation due to skin damage or irritation.

Although hyperpigmentation is not harmful, it can cause anxiety and self-consciousness about one's appearance.

This article provides an overview of hyperpigmentation on dark skin, including its causes, diagnosis by medical professionals, and potential treatment and prevention methods.

Understanding Hyperpigmentation

Melanocytes are cells present in the skin that produce melanin, which gives skin its color. Hyperpigmentation occurs when an excess amount of pigment accumulates in a specific spot on the skin.

Hyperpigmentation can take various forms, including:

  1. Lentigines: Commonly known as liver spots or age spots.
  2. Melasma: Patches of dark skin resulting from hormonal changes.
  3. Freckles: Tiny brown spots that often appear in areas exposed to sunlight.
  4. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: Discoloration following skin injury.

Sun exposure can worsen hyperpigmentation as melanin absorbs UV rays. To prevent further darkening of hyperpigmented spots, it is essential to use broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays.

Appearance of Hyperpigmentation on Dark Skin

Hyperpigmentation on dark skin appears darker than the surrounding skin and is typically flat.

People with darker skin tones often experience skin pigment disorders, making hyperpigmentation one of the top five dermatological complaints among individuals of African descent.

The discoloration may result from hereditary factors like freckles, skin trauma, medication, or hormonal changes. The shape and color of hyperpigmentation vary depending on the cause but commonly appear tan or brown, blue-gray, or black.

Hyperpigmentation can occur anywhere on the body. It may be more widespread as a reaction to medication or localized after skin trauma.

The appearance of hyperpigmentation depends on the cause and the individual's skin. It commonly follows skin trauma such as acne, rashes, insect bites, or abrasions.


Healthcare professionals diagnose hyperpigmentation by examining areas where the skin is darker than the surrounding skin. They aim to determine the underlying cause of the hyperpigmentation.

During the diagnosis, healthcare professionals may inquire about the progression of the discoloration, current medications, diet, and any other symptoms. They may also perform a physical examination and conduct a biopsy to rule out severe conditions such as skin cancers.

Additional tests that may be conducted include:

  • Thyroid function test
  • Wood lamp test
  • KOH test
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation test

Treating the underlying cause of hyperpigmentation is usually the initial course of action, followed by options to lighten the darkened areas.

Treatment Options

The treatment for dark spots depends on their cause.

If a topical agent, such as a skin or hair care product, irritates the skin and causes breakouts, it is advisable to discontinue its use. Typically, the irritation will resolve over time, and the darkened areas should fade within 6-12 months for surface hyperpigmentation.

For deeper discoloration within the skin, it can take years for the darkened color to fade. These spots might appear blue-gray to gray or much darker brown than the rest of the skin.

While hyperpigmentation is fading, it is crucial to use broad-spectrum sunscreens to protect the area. The sunscreen should have an SPF of 30 or higher and contain ingredients like titanium oxide or zinc oxide.

Over-the-counter products that can fade hyperpigmentation are available and should be used in conjunction with a high SPF sunscreen. These products often contain ingredients such as azelaic acid, glycolic acid, kojic acid, retinoid, or vitamin C.

In cases where hyperpigmentation is caused by medication or hormones, a doctor may adjust the medication levels to prevent worsening of the condition.

Causes of Hyperpigmentation

Various factors can contribute to hyperpigmentation, including:

  • Sun exposure
  • Certain medications
  • Hormonal changes
  • Skin trauma

Different causes exhibit different patterns of discoloration. For example:

  • Hormonal changes: Hormone-related hyperpigmentation appears as a mask-like discoloration across the lower portion of the face and the forehead.
  • Skin trauma: Discoloration resulting from skin trauma is visible at the site of injury.
  • Medication reaction: Hyperpigmentation due to medication may be more widespread across the body.

Healthcare professionals aim to identify the cause of the discoloration through consultations and create a personalized treatment plan accordingly.


Preventing hyperpigmentation involves strategies based on the underlying cause.

Exposure to the sun stimulates melanocytes to produce more melanin, leading to darkening of hyperpigmented areas. Therefore, using sunscreen is essential in preventing hyperpigmentation and slowing its progression.

If hyperpigmentation is caused by hair care products, discontinuing their use or switching to other products may help stop its progress.

Individuals experiencing discoloration due to hormonal changes should consult a doctor to establish an appropriate treatment plan.

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