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What’s Triggering your Dark Pigment Issues?

Even wondered what is causing those dark patches on your skin?

Our Dermatology Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Fidelma explains what hyperpigmentation is, what the triggers are, and how it can be avoided and treated.

So, what is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is not necessarily a condition in itself. It is simply a term used to describe skin that appears darker. It can occur in small patches, cover a large skin area, or even affect the entire body. While increased pigmentation usually isn’t harmful, it can be a symptom of another medical condition.

What causes hyperpigmentation?

A common cause of hyperpigmentation is the excess production of melanin, which is the pigment that gives skin its colour. Melanin is produced by skin cells called melanocytes and several different conditions or factors that can alter the production of melanin in your body.

The 6 triggers of hyperpigmentation

1: A change in hormone levels

Hormones are the activation code for hypersensitive pigment cells making them the top trigger for melasma/chloasma (darkened skin caused by hormonal changes). Pregnancy and birth control medication can directly result in an increased level of a hormone in your body that results in increased melanin synthesis.

2: Sun Exposure

Melasma is a common skin problem causing brown to grey-brown patches, usually on the face. Most people get it on their cheeks, bridge of their nose, forehead, chin, and above their upper lip. Though not the main cause of melasma, UV exposure does worsen the effect. Sunscreen is the single most important factor in improving most causes of hyperpigmentation. Look for:

  • A physical blocking sunscreen, preferably with zinc oxide as the main active ingredient

  • An SPF of at least 30 up to 50

  • Broad-spectrum coverage

As well as using sunscreen daily, you can also get additional protection from Topical antioxidants vitamin C and E. Remember to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours if you’re out in the sun — or more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming.

3: Inflammation

Heat or harsh exfoliation from lasers, microdermabrasion, or chemical peels can cause a melanin-producing reaction, so always ensure that you are treated by a medical professional and take the time to check out the skincare credentials of your clinician.

4: Waxing

Trauma to the hair follicle can cause your skin to go into protection mode, trigger melanin production, so again take care while undergoing such treatments.

5: Chemicals Reaction to Products

Exposure to certain chemicals, or skin products can trigger pigmentation. Be careful what products you use. If you have sensitive skin or have a bad reaction to a product, consult with a professional.

6: Look after your Diet

A folate deficiency could promote excess pigmentation. Bump up your intake of leafy greens, as well as nuts and whole grains.

How is hyperpigmentation diagnosed and treated?

A dermatologist or nurse trained in dermatology can diagnose the cause of your hyperpigmentation. They will request your medical history and give you a physical exam to determine the cause. In some cases, a skin biopsy can narrow down the cause.

Topical prescription medication can treat some cases of hyperpigmentation. This medication usually contains hydroquinone, which lightens the skin.

However, prolonged use of topical hydroquinone (without any breaks in use) can cause darkening of the skin, known as Ochronosis, so it is best to use topical hydroquinone only under the care of an expert dermatologist. They can properly guide you on how to use the medication without any adverse effects.

Your clinician may also suggest laser treatment or chemical peels to reduce hyperpigmentation, depending on the root cause.


This article is by Fidelma O Dowd, Registered Advanced Nurse in Dermatology. You can make an appointment to see Fidelma by calling (01, 524 0016) or download the Healthy Skin Clinic App to book a skin consultation.


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