Skin disorders: Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation


Hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation are skin conditions that manifest themselves as changes in the color on some areas of the skin. Some parts may be darker for hyperpigmentation; whereas lighter patches are obvious in hypopigmentation.

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Pigmentation refers to the complexion of the skin. Humans have various skin colors depending on their roots, location where they were brought up, their environment and their ancestry. The color of the skin is inherited from one parent or both. This inherited pigmentation is the normal, healthy skin tone. If the person has an injury, disease or change in hormonal levels, the skin color may change becoming either darker or lighter, hence, hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation, respectively.

Hyperpigmentation

High levels of melanin in the body result to hyperpigmentation. Melanin is the material responsible for the color of the skin. Hyperpigmentation is characterized by brown or dark patches in the skin, generally darker than the normal skin tone surrounding the patches. This darkening of the skin is the result of the melanin deposits building up in the skin due to its increased production.

Forms of Hyperpigmentation

Age spots or liver spots are common forms of hyperpigmentation. These skin conditions particularly occur due to the damage done by the sun. These are referred to by medical experts as the solar lentigines. These little darkened patches are commonly found on the face, hands and other areas of the skin that are oftentimes exposed to the sun.

Chloasma or melasma are similar in appearance to liver spots but they take up wider areas of skin. The darkening of the skin is oftentimes the result of changes in hormonal levels. Many cases of melasma happen to women who are into birth control pills since these pills affect the levels of hormones in the women’s bodies. Likewise, many pregnant women also develop chloasma. Chloasma is most commonly seen on the pregnant woman’s face, thus gaining the moniker “mask of pregnancy”. But chloasma is not limited to the face, the abdomen and other parts of the body can also be affected with this form of hyperpigmentation.

The change in skin color can also be a result of other factors such as skin diseases that leave dark patches on affected areas of the skin after the disease is cured; one good example for this acne. When acne dries up, dark spots are usually left in its place. Skin darkening can also be a result of injury to the skin, including surgery. Freckles are a skin condition manifested as small brownish spots that usually found on the arms and face. This condition is genetically inherited.

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Any darkened patches of the skin, whether they are liver spots or freckles, get darker when they are frequently exposed to the sun. This occurs since the melanin sucks up the energy from the harmful UV rays of the sun for the purpose of protecting the skin from being exposed too much. The common result from this is tanning which results to darkening in areas that have already been hyperpigmented. When going out during the day or even the afternoons, wear a sunscreen with a broad spectrum. It should be one that can block both UVB and UVA.

Hypopigmentation

Hypopigmentation is the opposite of hyperpigmentation where the color of the skin is lighter than normal. This is the outcome of the reduced production of melanin in the skin. Some examples of hypopigmentation are:

Pigmentation loss due to skin damage – If a person had an infection in the skin, burns or other trauma to the skin; this may result to pigmentation loss in the area affected. The good part about this type of pigmentation loss is that it is oftentimes temporary; although it may be a while for it to go back to its normal color. In the meantime, cosmetics may help cover the affected areas.

Albinism – This is a genetic disorder originated by the deficiency of a certain enzyme that produces melanin. This condition results to the absence of pigmentation within the skin, eyes or hair. The genetic makeup of an Albino prevents the body from producing melanin. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition. Albinos require wearing sunscreen every time they go outside during the day since they are more likely to get skin damage from the UV rays, or worse, skin cancer. This genetic abnormality happens in any race although commonly found among whites.

Vitiligo – Vitiligo produces white, smooth patches on the skin. In many cases the patches can appear anywhere on the body. This is considered as an autoimmune condition where the cells responsible for producing pigmentation are damaged. Like Albinism, this condition has no cure although there are various treatments like ultraviolet light, corticosteroid creams, and cosmetic cover-up treatments. Read more information about vitiligo and treatment.

Hyperpigmentation has more treatments available compared to hypopigmentation. With hyperpigmentation dermatologists prescribe creams that have hydroquinone as this helps to lighten the color of the skin. Other processes like bleaching lighten the skin and the darkened areas by decelerating the melanin production in order for the dark spots to gradually match the normal color of the skin.

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