Hyperpigmentation – What is it Anyway?

Nearly everyone has some form of hyperpigmentation and the condition can occur in small amounts that are unnoticeable. Some individuals however, can develop significant signs of hyperpigmentation that include darkening of areas of the skin that are a source of embarrassment. Hyperpigmentation refers to the accumulation of cells called melanocytes which are responsible for the normal pigmentation of skin. In hyperpigmentation however, the melanocytes grow in disproportionate amounts, causing obvious groupings of pigmentation on the skin. Hyperpigmentation can be hereditary or it can also be caused by medical conditions or medications that influence the production and accumulation of melanocytes.

Medical conditions that can contribute to hyperpigmentation include Addison’s Disease, in which the increased production of hormones stimulate the production of melocytes. Additionally, Cushing’s Disease, Celiac Disease and some types of insulin resistance can cause overproduction of melanocytes. Pregnant women often experience conditions called melasma and Linea nigra, which are commonly experienced minor accumulations of melanocytes on the skin. Skin cancers such as melanosis can become evident when hyperpigmentation occurs in patches on the skin which thicken and darken over time and without treatment. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by a ringworm infection and also as a result of laser treatment procedures on the skin.

Treatment for hyperpigmentation depends on the underlying cause. Hyperpigmentation caused by heredity is typically not treated but can be made less evident through the use of concealing creams, surgery or laser treatment. Hyperpigmentation caused by pregnancy typically resolves itself following birth. Prescription medications like Retinol may be prescribed to decrease the darkness of small concentrations of melanocytes and other medications including skin creams may also help reduce hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation caused by a medical problem such as mercury poisoning should be assessed and treated by a medical professional. In most cases, treating the underlying cause of hyperpigmentation can reduce the development of new areas of pigmentation and decrease the color and size of existing areas.

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