Hyperpigmentation – Discoloration of Skin

The Dermatologic Disease Database describes hyperpigmentation as a relatively common condition, which is not detrimental to an individual’s health.  Although this condition can be extremely unsightly or embarrassing, it is not cancerous.  It can occur in all people, regardless of race or age.  Pigmentation refers to the shading of a person’s skin.  The hyper condition causes a person’s skin to become darker.  The condition presents as a darkening of specific patchy areas of the skin.  There is a variety of causes of skin discolorations, ranging from certain illnesses to excessive sun exposure, to specific prescriptions.

Hyperpigmentation results from an overproduction or uneven distribution of melanin, a brown pigment in the skin that protects the epidermis from burning during sun exposure.  Over stimulation of melanin, which will darken the skin to brown in patches, can sometimes be caused by the body’s inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases or injury, but may also be due to excessive trauma to the skin.   Brown patches can also be a result of over stimulation of the epidermis due to exposure to ultra violet (UV) light from the sun’s rays.  The spots caused by UV rays are primarily found on the face, upper chest and hands, or anywhere that is typically exposed to the sun.

There are various forms of hyperpigmentation.  Melasma presents as dark brown to black symmetrical patches usually found on the cheeks, temples and foreheads.  Melasma can occur in pregnant women or those women on birth control pills or experience hormonal imbalances, and is more prevalent in dark skinned individuals.  All cases are aggravated by continued sun exposure, autoimmune disorders or photosensitizing pharmaceuticals.  Lentigines, also called age spots or liver spots, only occur with chronic UV exposure, and are generally flat, oval and brown.  They can be found most frequently on the hands and face, and will most likely increase with age.