October 01, 2019 at 01:00AM by CWC
Much like fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation is a common skin concern that most folks associate with the face—not the body. Believe it or not, though, hyperpigmentation (spots or specks that appear darker than the rest of the skin), doesn’t discriminate and can appear just about anywhere on the face or below the neck.
We know what you’re probably thinking: Oh give me a break. And we’re right there with you. It’s already annoying enough that we have to worry about dark marks and discoloration on our precious complexions—but our entire bodies, too? It feels like a helluva of a lot of ground to cover.
The good news? Hyperpigmentation causes and treatments are fairly similar for the face and the body. We know because we tapped two board-certified dermatologists for their expert insight on the matter, and they came through with all the details.
Without further ado, find a full breakdown on body hyperpigmentation—including causes, solutions, and rare cases you should know about—below.
What is hyperpigmentation and why does it happen?
Hyperpigmentation is loosely defined as darkened patches or spots on the skin and runs the gamut from sun spots to acne scars to freckles. As Sejal Shah, MD, a New York City dermatologist, puts it matter-of-factly: “Hyperpigmentation refers to excess pigmentation, which appears as dark spots on the skin.” This excess pigmentation occurs when the skin produces more melanin, which for those unfamiliar, is the pigment that’s responsible for giving skin its color. It’s also worth noting that hyperpigmentation issues usually affect darker skin tones most often.
While Dr. Shah explains that there are three main types of hyperpigmentation—post-inflammatory, age spots, and melasma—any number of skin conditions can be associated with hyperpigmentation: “It can occur after any inflammatory process in the skin, including acne, eczema, rashes, and ringworm,” she explains. “These processes, like sun exposure, have the potential to stimulate pigment-producing cells, which make excess pigment.” Cuts and wounds can do their own damage, too. For instance, NYC dermatologist Melissa Levin, MD says even a minuscule bug bite can result in a dark mark that lasts for days or weeks. Basically, almost any trauma to the skin, no matter how big or small, can result in hyperpigmentation.
Put simply, the skin on our body isn’t far off from our facial skin. “Even melasma, although more common on the face, can appear on the body,” says Dr. Shah. For this reason, you should always be diligent about sun protection, which is one of the major causes of hyperpigmentation. For instance, Dr. Shah and Dr. Levin both recommend wearing rash guards with SPF if you know you’ll be outside for an extended period of time—that, and you should be slathering on sunscreen every two hours on the dot.
Can hyperpigmentation be reversed?
While hyperpigmentation can be notoriously tricky to deal with, the good news is there’s a wide variety of ways to do so. That being said, it can be even trickier to treat when it’s on the body. “It’s not a super easy issue to solve because the skin on your body is thicker so it’s harder for topicals to penetrate,” explains Dr. Levin. Additionally, she says it can be tough because pigmentation can lay not just on the upper layer of skin, but underneath in the second layer known as the dermis, which ultimately makes it more difficult to target.
Still, both experts recommend a combination of sun protection, topical lightening agents like vitamin C, niacinamide, and prescription hydroquinone, as well as in-office chemical peels and laser treatments such as the non-invasive Q-Switch, Fraxel, and BroadBand Light (aka BBL). To safely determine which treatment to try, be sure to consult your dermatologist first, as they’ll know exactly which one will help your type of hyperpigmentation after thoroughly assessing it. They’ll also be able to rule out any underlying causes that could be a contributing factor.
What’s the verdict?
Let’s quickly recap, shall we? Here it goes: Hyperpigmentation refers to excess pigmentation in the skin and presents itself in the form of dark marks and discoloration. It can occur on the face and the body for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: post-inflammatory responses, excess sun exposure, and skin conditions both common and rare.
While it can be cumbersome to treat because the skin on the body is thicker and harder to penetrate, it’s definitely not untreatable, and there are myriad different ways to do so. But, before you go ahead and order a bunch of products on Amazon (hey, we’ve all been there), make sure to see a derm first to get fully evaluated and figure out the right treatment plan for you.
Finally: Don’t forget that hyperpigmentation is one of the most common skin concerns out there, so if you’re struggling with it, you’re far from alone.