What causes increased skin pigmentation? 11 possible conditions
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Hyperpigmentation is a condition that causes the skin to darken. It can occur in small patches or cover large areas of the body. It can also affect the entire body. Hyperpigmentation is usually not harmful. But it can be a symptom of another medical condition.
There are several types of hyperpigmentation.
- Melasma is believed to be caused by hormonal changes. It commonly develops during pregnancy. Areas of hyperpigmentation can appear on any area of the body. They are most common on the abdomen and face.
- Sunspots, or solar lentigines, are common. They are related to excess sun exposure over time. They generally appear as spots of hyperpigmentation on areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the hands and face.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a result of prior injury to the skin (American College of Osteopathic Dermatology).
A common cause of hyperpigmentation is excess production of melanin. Melanin is a pigment that gives skin its color. It is produced by skin cells called melanocytes. Several different conditions or factors may alter the production of melanin in the body.
Certain medications can cause hyperpigmentation. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause hyperpigmentation as a side effect (University of New Mexico Cancer Center).
Pregnancy changes hormone levels. This appears to affect melanin production in some women.
Endocrine diseases such as Addison’s disease can cause hyperpigmentation. Addison’s disease affects the adrenal glands and hormone production. The disruption of hormone levels can increase melanin production (Medline Plus).
Excess sun exposure causes an increase in melanin. This can cause patches of hyperpigmentation to develop .
Sun exposure can increase melanin production. With more exposure to the sun comes a higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation.
Pregnancy also increases a woman’s chances of developing hyperpigmentation.
Darkened areas of the skin are the only symptoms of hyperpigmentation. Patches of hyperpigmentation may be various sizes. They can develop anywhere on the body.
A dermatologist can diagnose hyperpigmentation. A medical history and exam will help to determine the cause of hyperpigmentation. In some instances, a skin biopsy will be taken, to rule out skin cancer.
A doctor may also suggest laser treatments.
Home care sometimes includes over-the-counter medications, which may fade dark spots. These medications do not contain as much hydroquinone as prescription medications. Home care also includes the use of sunscreen. If the skin already has areas of hyperpigmentation, exposure to the sun can make the skin darker.
Hyperpigmentation is not harmful and is usually not a sign of any serious medical condition. In some cases, darkened areas of the skin fade on their own without treatment. In others, hyperpigmentation fades with treatment. Even if treatment is not able to completely reverse hyperpigmentation, it may improve the condition.
It is not always possible to prevent hyperpigmentation. Using sunscreen can reduce sun damage and prevent hyperpigmentation. Avoiding certain medications may also prevent hyperpigmentation.
- Hyperpigmentation. (n.d.). American College of Osteopathic Dermatology. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.aocd.org/?page=Hyperpigmentation
- Hyperpigmentation. (n.d.). University of New Mexico Cancer Center. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://cancer.unm.edu/cancer/cancer-info/cancer-treatment/side-effects-of-cancer-treatment/less-common-side-effects/skin-reactions/hyperpigmentation/
- Skin – abnormally dark or light. (n.d.). Medline Plus. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003242.htm
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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