Hyperpigmentation, Brown Spots & Skin Discolorations

Medical Spa & Cosmetic Dermatology Serving Beverly Hills, Lancaster, Cerritos, Santa Ana & Nearby Southern California

melasma of the cheek
Photo source - D. Rivers CMA

If you suffer from hyperpigmentation, you know how genuinely frustrating it is to try to conceal, lighten or erase the spots and brown patches on your skin.

Hyperpigmentation is essentially a case of your pigment-producing cells being pushed into overdrive by either external factors (typically sun exposure) or internal factors such as hormonal shifts caused by pregnancy, birth control pills or menopause. Any form of hyperpigmentation will be worsened (sometimes significantly) by sun exposure.

Hyperpigmentation may be referred to by a number of names, including brown spots, melasma, age spots, "liver spots", sun spots, sun freckles, pregnancy mask. Whether diffuse, as in melasma, or in single concentrated areas such as those in a freckle, hyperpigmentation is more often controlled than eliminated and in some cases the best response will be blending and lightening.

The most effective solutions to existing brown spots and unevenly-colored skin will be one of or a combination of:

  • Rejuvelux Photofacial: Photofacial (IPL) is a light based treatment that focuses on brown and red pigment in your skin. This dual action means it can help reduce and in some cases eliminate both brown patches and small veins.
  • Cosmelan: An intensive topical treatment program that inhibits melanin production and lightens your skin with non-hydroquinone ingredients
  • Fractional Laser: A laser treatment that has FDA approval for Melasma and Chloasma and Sun-induced hyperpigmentation
  • Chemical Peels: Overall skin regeneration by chemically causing a peeling of your damaged skin

Prevention and protection is a key element. An effective sunscreen of 30SPF of higher, used correctly, will go a long way in helping improve and prevent hyperpigmentation problems

Melanin: The Good and Bad of Your Natural Pigment

Skin gets its color, whether light or dark, from melanin. Some people are born with more melanin cells than others and consequently, have a higher incidence of problematic pigmentation. The more melanin, the more color and the more "color-potential" you have in your skin.

Sun exposure, heat, injury or hormonal changes can all trigger increased melanin production. It is the abnormal increase that causes irregular color on the skin. Melanin rises to the surface of the skin in response to these triggers but is not seen right away as the cells are produced deeper in the skin and then rise slowly to the surface. This is why you may not see the brown spots until days, weeks, or even months after the cause.

Melanin is a skin protector and is the body's attempt to stop cell damage from sun or heat. The "tan" that so many Southern California sun worshippers seek is actually the body's reaction to cell damage. With repeated insult, skin that evenly tanned will begin to take on a mottled appearance and then begin showing concentrated dark spots.

The 3 Major Causes of Hyper Pigmentation and Brown Spots

1. Sun-induced hyperpigmentation

patient with sun-induced hyperpigmentation on the neck
Source: New Zealand Dermatological Society

One of the primary functions of melanin production in your skin is to protect you from UV rays from the sun. A "tan" is the prime example of your body's melanin response to the sun.

When the skin is assaulted by repeated exposure to the sun, you experience sun damage in a variety of ways and one of those is brown spots and hyper-pigmentation resulting from an over-production of melanin. Once the cycle of pigment over-production has started, it is difficult to stop it and usually medical intervention is required.

2. Hormonal hyperpigmentation (melasma or chloasma) caused by hormone changes

patient with hormonal hyperpigmentation
Source: Ibid.

The second most frequent cause of hyper-pigmentation is hormone changes. This may be a result of birth control pills, pregnancy or the various stages of menopause. Hormone shifts trigger the melanin cells to go into over-drive. This can happen even if you are not a sun worshipper. Sun exposure will always make it worse.

3. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by injury

patient with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Source: Johns Hopkins University |
D. Hoffman, MD

The third most common cause of pigmentation is a direct result of some type of injury to the skin. Typical pigmentation-causing injuries include:

  • Improperly performed laser treatments
  • Acne or acne cysts
  • Over-exposure to heat
  • Hair waxing
  • Insect bites or itchy rashes
  • Abrasions or cuts

Inflammation is your body's response to injury. Often inflammation is not obvious because it is occurring at a deep level. This inflammation triggers melanin production and the result is a concentration of pigment in the affected area. A common result of improperly performed hair laser is a proliferation of dark patches on the legs or face. There are a variety of hair lasers on the market and not every one is designed for every skin type and color.

The Best Way to Prevent Hyperpigmentation: Taking Care of Your Skin by Controlling Sun Exposure

woman wearing sunhat
Photo - National Library of Medicine

Sun exposure is the primary cause of facial and body brown spots, age spots, freckles, moles and pre-cancerous actinic keratosis. Preventing sun-induced hyperpigmentation is a full time process. Hormones, injury and pigmentation from allergic reactions or skin disease such as acne are mostly beyond your control.

Sunscreen, sunblock, hats and sun-protective clothing are your first line guard against not only unsightly brown patches but also sun damage that could lead to skin cancer.

Protect your skin from the sun and other common causes of hyperpigmentation issues. Call Beverly Hills Laser Institute, Inc. at 888-333-2515 for a full discussion of your options with Dr. Sedgh.