The spectrum of hyperpigmentation: a guide to its common types and their treatments

The spectrum of hyperpigmentation: a guide to its common types and their treatments

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition characterized by the darkening of certain areas due to an excess of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. While it is generally harmless, hyperpigmentation can be a source of distress for many individuals. Understanding the different types of hyperpigmentation is crucial for effective treatment and management.

Sun-induced hyperpigmentation (i.e sunspots or age spots)

Sunspots, also known as age spots or solar lentigines, are a result of prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Over time, these rays can trigger an overproduction of melanin, leading to the formation of dark spots, usually on areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, and shoulders.


Prevention is key when it comes to sun-induced hyperpigmentation. Regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF can help protect the skin from UV damage.

Additionally, topical treatments containing ingredients like hydroquinone, retinoids, and vitamin C may be recommended by a doctor to lighten existing spots.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)

PIH occurs as a result of inflammation or injury to the skin. This can be triggered by conditions such as acne, eczema, or a cut or scrape. When the skin is inflamed, it produces excess melanin as part of the healing process, leading to darkened areas.


Treating the underlying cause of inflammation is crucial for managing PIH. In addition to this, topical treatments like retinoids, azelaic acid, and vitamin C can help fade hyperpigmented areas. It’s important to avoid picking at acne or other skin conditions to prevent further inflammation and subsequent hyperpigmentation.


Melasma is a common form of hyperpigmentation characterized by symmetrical dark patches, usually on the face. It is more prevalent in women, especially during pregnancy (it can be called chloasma or “pregnancy mask” – see below). It is often associated with hormonal changes.


Managing melasma can be challenging, and it often requires a combination of treatments. Sun protection is crucial, as UV exposure can worsen melasma. Topical agents such as hydroquinone, retinoids, and kojic acid may be recommended. In some cases, doctor-led procedures like chemical peels or laser therapy may be considered.

Drug-induced hyperpigmentation

Certain medications can lead to hyperpigmentation as a side effect. This type of hyperpigmentation can affect the skin, nails, or mucous membranes. Common culprits include some antibiotics, antimalarial drugs, and certain chemotherapy medications.


If drug-induced hyperpigmentation is suspected, consulting with a healthcare professional is essential. In some cases, changing the medication or adjusting the dosage may help. Topical treatments and procedures, such as laser therapy, may also be considered, based on the severity of hyperpigmentation.

Genetic or racial hyperpigmentation

Certain individuals may be predisposed to hyperpigmentation based on their genetic makeup or racial background. For example, individuals with darker skin tones may be more prone to conditions such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. In other cases, some people are born with birthmarks, or are more prone to developing freckles or moles.


While genetic or racial hyperpigmentation may not be entirely preventable, proper skincare and sun protection can help manage and minimize its effects. Using gentle exfoliants and moisturizers, along with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, can contribute to maintaining healthy skin.

Birthmarks are pigmented areas that you are born with. A doctor may recommend laser treatments to lighten or remove the birthmarks.

Moles can also be removed surgically, or with lasers.


Hyperpigmentation is a diverse and complex skin condition with various underlying causes. Understanding the specific type of hyperpigmentation is crucial for effective treatment. In addition to targeted skincare, adopting a comprehensive approach that includes sun protection, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, professional interventions, can help individuals achieve a more even skin tone and improved skin health. If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, consulting with a dermatologist is recommended to receive personalized advice and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.