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What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

August 6, 2021 by VitalSkin Dermatology

teen boy with Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a condition that can cause frustration for many individuals. This dermatological condition can interrupt the evenness of someone’s skin tone, making skin look splotchy and less healthy. What causes it and what can be done to help? Let’s begin by understanding what hyperpigmentation is.

What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a darkening of the skin that indicates an increase in melanin in that area of the skin. Hyperpigmentation comes in many forms and people of any skin tone can experience the condition. Forms of hyperpigmentation include:

  • Acne scarring – Dark splotches left after acne has damaged the skin.
  • Melasma – A “mask” or array of dark splotches that can appear anywhere on the face, but often appear around the forehead and jawline.
  • Freckles – A smattering of small spots that typically appear across the bridge of the nose and cheekbones but can develop anywhere on the body.
  • Solar lentigines (aka, age spots or liver spots) – Concentrated splotches that appear later in life and are actually related to freckles.

While these forms of hyperpigmentation manifest in different ways, they are all the result of an increase in melanin in the skin. What triggers that increase varies from one situation to the next.

The Causes of Hyperpigmentation

So what causes this increase in melanin in certain areas of the skin? Well, there are a number of causes that range from one’s genes to lifestyle choices.


This one should be obvious but, yes, acne scarring is caused by acne. To refine the point a bit, acne scarring is most often caused by picking at or scratching acne. The best way to avoid the hyperpigmentation that can develop after an outbreak of acne is to not aggravate the skin in any way.


Hormones are one significant cause of hyperpigmentation, especially when it comes to melasma. For example, hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy can lead to the development of the condition, so much so that melasma is sometimes called the “mask of pregnancy.” Some women who take oral contraceptives can also develop the skin condition.

The Sun

It should go without saying at this point that sunscreen is a must for every complexion, whether one tends to burn or not. Exposing the skin to too many UV rays can damage the skin and exacerbate skin conditions. So it goes with hyperpigmentation, too. Sun can make hyperpigmentation much, much worse.

You’ve seen it many times in those with freckles. They go in the sun and suddenly a light smattering of freckles has darkened and even multiplied. Sun exposure has a direct effect on any form of hyperpigmentation, further increasing the presence of melanin and darkening the spots. The development of liver spots correlates directly with excess exposure to the sun, as well.


One form of hyperpigmentation that just comes naturally are good ol’ freckles. Freckles actually result from a combination of genes and the sun, to be more precise. Those with a tendency to develop freckles usually have Caucasian or Asian ancestry and the MC1R gene. This gene, which is responsible for providing instructions for making melanin to the body, ends up producing a type of melanin known as pheomelanin. This type of melanin, in turn, puts these individuals at a higher risk of developing freckles when exposed to or burnt by the sun.

Those who inherit the gene for this condition will get these tiny bits of discoloration no matter what. Avoiding the sun is, of course, one of the best ways to lessen the appearance of freckles. Wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen every day— even on cloudy ones— can slow the development and lighten the appearance of freckles.

How to Treat Hyperpigmentation

There are a wide range of treatments available that can reduce the intensity of hyperpigmentation. To start exploring your treatment options, consult with a VitalSkin expert today.

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