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What is hyperpigmentation?

Speckles, freckles and sometimes unwanted blemishes. Otherwise known as hyperpigmentation, or nature very much doing its thing in terms of protecting your sensational skin from the sun’s harmful rays. And in her own way, nature is a talented artist popping the finishing touches or beauty spots just where we like them. Or, on the other hand, sometimes going slightly off-piste and making her mark just where we don’t want her to. Hyperpigmentation is light brown to black skin spots or patches appearing in any shape or size, in clusters or solo. They’re very common and are mostly harmless.

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What causes hyperpigmentation?

Skin hyperpigmentation is a great example of our clever human bodies working with nature. Our skin’s genius has developed alongside the sun – sounds out there, but it’s true. We have clever skin cells called melanocytes designed to produce melanin (a skin pigment that ranges in colour from dark brown to black) which absorbs and scatters the sun’s UV rays to protect skin cells. That’s why people who’ve lived in sunnier climates for generations sometimes have darker skin than those who’ve lived in cooler climates. When any of us are directly in the sunshine, our melanocytes can multiply and distribute unevenly and create what we know as hyperpigmentation or darker spots and patches on our skin.

What are the characteristics of hyperpigmentation?

SUN SPOTS

Sun spots are the most common type of hyperpigmentation. We know these are caused by the body’s natural defence when we over-expose it to the sun’s harmful UV rays, but what do they look like? They tend to appear on the parts of your body that see the sun the most, so your face and hands mostly. They can be black, brown or grey and show mostly as freckles or splodges.

POST-INFLAMMATORY HYPERPIGMENTATION (PIH)

This is when skin changes colour anywhere on your body after damage such a wound, a rash or sometimes acne. That’s because melanin is produced when skin is healing and overproduction can form patches of a different skin colour, ranging from white, pink to red, purple, brown, or black, depending on your skin tone. Always see your doctor if you have any concerns.

MELASMA

Melasma is another type of hyperpigmentation where your skin responds to hormonal changes in your body. It tends to be more common in women, quite often during pregnancy or if you’re using hormone based contraception. Here skin tends to form patches of black or brown on the face or sometimes your tummy. Do talk to a doctor or dermatologist if you’re worried.

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Help prevent future hyperpigmentation

So, what do we need to do if we want to avoid hyperpigmentation of the unwanted variety? The most common cause of new dark spots or patches on our face tends to be over-exposure to the sunshine, either when it’s at its hottest or when we spend lengthy periods in it. But sunflowers panic not, we don’t want to avoid daylight or the vitamin D it provides us altogether. But we do need to enjoy it while staying out of direct contact with it when it’s at its strongest. It’s good news for hat lovers, the bigger the better – create your own personal parasol to provide your visage with constant shade and cover up your limbs as much as possible. It’s also good sense to try and enjoy the sunshine before 10am or after 4pm, when UV rays are less powerful. Naturally, always use a sunscreen with a SPF 30 to 50. It’s the most constant way to help protect our skin from the sun’s harmful rays and give our hard-working melanocytes a break.

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