Understanding Hyperpigmentation Part 1: Types and Causes for Effective Skin Care

The Types and Causes of Hyperpigmentation helping you towards an effective routine.

Skin Education | 


Understanding Hyperpigmentation and Its Causes

Hyperpigmentation is a term used to describe skin that appears darker in places than the usual surrounding area leading to uneven skin tone, this can be in the form of dark spots, age spots, melasma, discolouration patches and dark marks. These are usually brown or black marks that can cover a very small precise area or large patch. The darkening occurs when an excess of melanin (the pigment produced by our pigment-producing cells) forms deposits in the skin.


Why is darker skin more Prone to hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a common condition that affects all skins. At the same time, those with darker skin tones are more prone to developing hyperpigmentation. This is because darker skin contains higher levels of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Darker skin tones may find that their skin usually heals from injuries/inflammation with hyperpigmentation for example blemishes, bug bites, minor scratches can all lead to dark marks as the skin recovers. This increased reactivity of melanocytes in darker skin makes it more susceptible to hyperpigmentation following any form of skin trauma.


What causes hyperpigmentation?

The pigment that causes darkness is called melanin, which is produced by melanocyte cells found in the lower layers of the skin. But what triggers the melanocytes to produce melanin? The two most common causes of hyperpigmentation are UV exposure and inflammation.

1. UV exposure

UV rays inflict a plethora of negative effects on the skin, as discussed in our “UV Radiation and its Effects” post. In response, melanocytes at the bottom layer of the epidermis produce melanin, which can absorb UV rays to protect our skin. A side effect of this layer of defence is the resulting pigmentation and more distinct appearance of any existing hyperpigmentation  on the skin.

2. Inflammation

Hyperpigmentation from this cause is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the causes are not just limited to acne. Any form of skin injury can cause inflammation, like eczema, insect bites, scratches, cuts and scrapes, just to name a few. This inflammation stimulates melanocytes to overproduce melanin, thus forming grey or brown hyperpigmentation on the skin. Prescription medicines such as antibiotics and retinoids usually taken to combat the inflammation increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, further aggravating the hyperpigmentation.

Additional Causes of Hyperpigmentation:

  • Genetics
  • Medication
  • Skin injury (Bug bites, cuts)
  • Ageing (the body no longer functions at its most optimal increasing the vulnerability to various external assaults as well as internal hormonal changes)
  • Environmental stressors (pollution)
  • Skin irritation (waxing, shaving)
  • Intense heat (hot wax, saunas, lengthy periods of time in the sun)
  • Hormones (especially during pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy)


Here we show you how hyperpigmentation is formed:

Melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells found in our skin (epidermis) are stimulated by a number of factors including UV rays, inflammation (acne), genetics, hormones, irritants, medication etc to produce melanin. These triggers activate a key enzyme called tyrosinase that facilitates the production of melanin. In most cases, the melanin is then transferred and transported by our skin cells (keratinocytes) to the surface of the skin. Pigment helps to defend the skin against UV rays yet when melanocytes overproduce melanin this can lead to hyperpigmentation.

Process of hyperpigmentation in skin layers


What are the types of hyperpigmentation?

1. Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

PIH are the dark marks left behind on the skin (or the overproduction of melanin in the skin) as a default response to injury (burns, cuts, scratching and picking the skin) or inflammatory skin disorders (eczema, acne) and can again be caused or darkened by sun exposure and some medications.

2. Acne Scarring

Although acne is also a form of inflammation, acne scars need to be treated differently from PIH since it often forms in the dermal (lower) layer of the skin, where the acne-induced inflammation originated from. It is more stubborn as it is a result of follicle (base of hair) damage.

3. Melasma

This is one of the most complicated forms of hyperpigmentation and is usually more common in women than men. It is irregular patches of hyperpigmentation usually caused by triggers such as genetics, sun exposure, hormones and some medications (genetic predisposition is a major factor in the development of melasma). There are also different types of melasma: epidermal, dermal and mixed, with dermal melasma being the most difficult to treat. Caution is also required during treatments as anything that causes heat and friction can further increase melanin production.

4. Solar Lentigos

Also known as liver spots or age spots are usually smaller, flat, dark brown, can appear round or oval-shaped and are the results of cumulative sun damage. For these reasons, they mostly appear on parts of the body that are frequently exposed such as the hands, face and arms. They are also more common in older skins due to photoageing and irregularities in pigment production or deposition.they are a result of chronic (long term) sun exposure. They start appearing in about 90% of light skinned people at 60 years old, on sun-exposed areas such as arms, hands, face and neck. Although unseen, this process starts during the teen years and shows its first signs around the early 30s, so it is crucial to always wear sunscreen to avoid this.

5. Inherited Hyperpigmentation

Also known as freckles or sun spots, they are usually found on fair-skinned people with red hair (Fitzpatrick type I). More prominent in the summer due to sun exposure, they usually become less prominent with age.

Why is it important to understand the types of pigmentation?

Conditions such as acne, ageing and sensitive skin have taken the spotlight in skincare over the years. Hyperpigmentation has thus been long neglected although it is a major concern for people of colour. It has also been found that 90% of women can have pigment irregularities at some stage of their life, making it all the more perplexing why there are not many products dedicated to treating hyperpigmentation.

At Sachi Skin, we took this challenging dermal condition into our stride to create the Triphala Pigmentation Corrector to be the first brand in the UK dedicated to addressing the hyperpigmentation while taking diverse skin tones nuances into account.

Disclaimer: Please note none of the above constitutes medical advice. Always seek medical advice if you have any concerns or are looking to treat a medical condition.




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