What causes increased skin pigmentation? 11 possible conditions

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What Is Hyperpigmentation?

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. 

Types of Hyperpigmentation

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).

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

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 .

What Are the Risk Factors for Hyperpigmentation?

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.

What Are the Symptoms of 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.

How Is Hyperpigmentation Diagnosed?

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.

How Is Hyperpigmentation Treated?

Topical prescription medication can treat some cases of hyperpigmentation. This medication usually contains hydroquinone, which bleaches the skin. The medication can take a few months to reduce areas of hyperpigmentation.

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. 

What Is the Outlook for Hyperpigmentation?

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.

How Is Hyperpigmentation Prevented?

It is not always possible to prevent hyperpigmentation. Using sunscreen can reduce sun damage and prevent hyperpigmentation. Avoiding certain medications may also prevent hyperpigmentation.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.



Eczema is a common skin condition caused by an overactive immune system. It is marked by itchy and inflamed patches of skin.

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Addison’s Disease

Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal cortex is damaged and the adrenal glands don't produce enough of the steroid hormones cortisol and aldosterone.

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Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is a progressive, irreversible destruction of the kidneys. The most common causes are high blood pressure and diabetes. Symptoms don't show until about 90 percent of the kidney has been destroyed.

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Jock Itch

Tinea cruris (jock itch) is a fungal infection of the groin that can spread to the butt or abdomen. It's marked by redness, itching, burning, and a rash in the groin area that worsens with exercise.

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End-Stage Kidney Disease

End-stage kidney disease is the final stage of kidney disease. Signs include an inability to urinate, headache, change in skin color, excessive thirst, and swelling in the legs and hands.

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Glomerulonephritis occurs when blood filtering vessels in the kidneys are damaged. This may contribute to kidney failure, which causes fatigue, insomnia, itchy skin, and other symptoms.

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Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

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Medullary Cystic Disease

Medullary cystic kidney disease is a rare condition that causes cysts to form on kidneys. Kidney failure may result, symptoms of which can include changes in skin color and itchy skin.

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Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) refers to several different inherited conditions that affect the nervous system and adrenal glands. Other names for it are adrenomyeloneuropathy, childhood cerebral ALD, and Schilder-Addiso...

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Addisonian Crisis (Acute Adrenal Crisis)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

People with Addison's disease don't make enough cortisol or aldosterone. Addisonian crisis is a potentially life-threatening condition indicated by nausea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills.

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Acanthosis Nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is a fairly common skin pigmentation disorder. The most notable sign of acanthosis nigricans is dark patches of skin with a thick, velvety texture. These patches may appear on the armpits, groin...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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