You are not alone, as millions of women (and men) are plagued by this condition which is called hyperpigmentation.
Essentially, hyperpigmentation is caused by the excessive production of melanin within the skin that results in this persistent darkness of the skin. Melanin is the chemical released in the skin cells when exposed to ultraviolet light.
However, in some people and in some locations on the body, the melanin becomes overproduced and literally stains the skin cells to the extent that the tan effects of melanin do not fade. Especially when hyperpigmentation occurs on the face, its appearance can make one who has it feel self-conscious, demoralized, and unattractive.
Over the past decade seeing people for their aesthetic problems and concerns, hyperpigmentation has definitely been a major issue and has been steadily increasing in frequency. Recent studies have shown several major reasons why aesthetic offices are seeing more hyperpigmentation than ever.
- Sunscreen still isn’t being used daily. Despite the fact that information is widely disseminated about the damaging and cancerous effects of indoor and outdoor tanning, most Americans do not wear sunscreen every day. The average is only up to 30% in most self-reported surveys. The tanning beds being used by the young and the pre-sunscreen era outdoor tanning of the middle to older age groups are considered to be one of major reasons for the increase in hyperpigmentation incidence.
- More hormonal changes are happening. Shifts in female hormones can cause increased production of melanin and thereby hyperpigmentation. Changes in hormones associated with pregnancy have traditionally been the major cause of melasma, a form of hyperpigmentation also known as “mother’s mask.” However, more women than ever are taking oral contraceptives or birth control pills. The changes in hormones when these pills are started, adjusted or stopped can increase pigment skin levels. Women who are now taking these medications need to be educated on the importance of sun protection before long-standing or even permanent hyperpigmentation occurs.
- Many diseases can cause skin tone changes. Many medical conditions have side effects of hyperpigmentation, especially when exposed to the sun. One of most common is diabetes, where neck discoloration is the most common site. Other conditions that predispose a person to increased skin pigment include circulatory conditions (especially in the lower legs), chronic allergies, and immune disorders.
- Changes in population. Although not a major issue in Maine, there are more and more people in the U.S. than ever that have darker skin tones. Darker skin tones, as seen in Latinos as well as southern European, east Indian and Asian populations, have higher numbers of pigment producing cells. However, the fact that they have darker pigment actually makes them more likely to have abnormal patterns of pigmentation over time. Also, as more multiracial families occur in the US population, these risks for hyperpigmentation will increase over time.
Even though these causes for hyperpigmentation are increasing in frequency, the most important preventive measure is to wear sunscreen. Even if you do not see discoloration in your skin in the short term, wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin from the sun will lessen your chances of developing increased sunspots and hyperpigmentation in the future.
Once hyperpigmentation occurs, there are treatments to reduce or eliminate the discoloration including lasers, microneedling, and topical treatments. If you have any questions about any skin discoloration you may have, call for a free consultation at (207) 873-2158 and we can discuss your individual needs.