What is Hyperpigmentation and Why is it So Common in Darker Skin?

The melanin in the skin of color provides a specific amount of protection of ultraviolet radiation from the sun and is partially responsible for skin that has fewer signs of premature aging because melanin works to reduce penetration of UV rays into the skin, protecting the cells and DNA.

Hyperpigmentation in Skin of Color
Melanin helps darker skin stay youthful and wrinkle-free longer, but it can also be the cause of a common skin discoloration called hyperpigmentation. Rubberball/Erik Isakson/Getty Images

Unfortunately, melanin also provides a bit of a disadvantage. Skin of color is sensitive, easily irritated and more vulnerable to even the simplest of skin injuries and inflammation which can cause an overproduction of melanin and an irregular dispersion of the pigment. Dark spots and patches appear from the resulting hypermelanosis, a scientific term for an excessive and abnormal development of melanin in body tissues.

HP is more common in darker skin

Hyperpigmentation might affect the skin of all races but is more well-known and at times more severe and longer lasting in darker skin. The degree of pigmentation in the skin, rather than race or ethnicity, may contribute to developing skin discolorations. Still, even those of mixed race and that have very light skin should be aware that they too could have a genetic disposition for hyperpigmentation.

Why it happens

All races have the same number of melanocytes (the cells responsible for melanin production.) Melanocyte cells normally produce pigment evenly across the skin. When these cells are over stimulated, the excess melanin forms deposits on the skin which appear as discoloration in spots, patches or large areas of the skin. Over-stimulation of melanin production can be caused by UV damage, skin trauma and hormonal fluctuations (such as melasma, which can occur during pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy and from the use of oral contraceptives.) The melanocytes in the skin of color are more reactive to certain stimuli such as irritation and injury.


When the cause of HP is irritation or inflammation of the skin, the condition is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation can be caused by:

  • Scratches, burns, bruising.
  • Sunburn.
  • Prescription and OTC topical medications, sensitivity to medications, medications that make the skin photosensitive.
  • Skincare products, irritation from specific skincare practices and also products extremely harsh for the skin type.
  • Surgery, cosmetic procedures similar to chemical peels, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, laser resurfacing procedures.
  • Razor bumps from shaving.
  • Systemic diseases like Addison’s disease.
  • Contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis/eczema, pityriasis rosacea, pimples, acne, allergic reactions to insect bites.

It is also believed that certain plants like parsley, contain psolarens (a photosensitizing agent found in plants) that make the skin more sensitive to the sun. PUVA (psoralen and UVA) is often used in the treatment of skin problems like psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo, which is another reason why it is very important to wear sunscreen when undergoing treatments or while taking medications or herbs.

In addition to regularly using sunscreen, early treatment for hyperpigmentation is very important, to avoid creating skin discolorations or making existing discolorations worse. PIH will return if the area is exposed to sunlight and when there are recurring irritation and inflammation.

While waiting for skin discolorations to fade, makeup and concealers can often be used to cover up the dark marks. Read Top 8 Products to Cover Up Hyperpigmentation for more information.

4 Reasons Why Latinas Should Wear Sunscreen – Make It Part of Your Daily Routine

Though melanin in Latina skin provides some protection from the harmful rays of the sun, there are skin conditions that also make Latinas prone to sun damage.

Here are four reasons Latinas should wear sunscreen on a regular basis:

1. Skin Cancer

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in Latinos/Hispanics. Basal cell carcinoma is usually linked to ultraviolet light exposure and is mainly found on body parts that receive the most sun exposure. A study by Howard University in Washington, DC found that 89% of basal cell carcinomas on naturally brown skin occur on the head or neck.

According to an article by the Skin Cancer Foundation, Skin Cancer and Skin of Color, the correlation between UV light and basal cell carcinoma in darker skin types explains the relatively higher incidence of this malignancy among darker-skinned populations living in hot climates like New Mexico and Arizona.

Many dermatologists now recommend the use of an SPF of 30, even for brown skin.

2. Melasma

When the skin is exposed to UV rays the skin’s pigment-producing cells produce extra melanin as a defense against burning. Sun exposure is the number one cause of melasma, a skin condition caused by the excess production of melanin, creating dark or brown spots on the face and other parts of the body. Latinas, in particular, have a high risk of developing this skin condition.

The use of sunscreen can prevent the appearance of skin discolorations, aid in the treatment of existing dark spots and prevent the condition from getting worse.

3. Acne Scars

Since many Latinas have oily skin, the oiliness contributes to clogged pores, causing acne and blemishes, which can eventually turn into acne scars and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when the redness from acne turns brown when skin trauma causes the overproduction of melanin.

4. Ultraviolet Aging

Like other women of color, Latina skin helps delay signs of aging.

But just as you are not immune to skin cancer and sun-related skin problems, too much sun exposure can still lead to premature aging. The sun’s UV rays can penetrate the skin’s inner layers and damage collagen and elastin fibers, which results in wrinkles and sagging skin. So don’t just think about sunscreen when you’re hitting the beach. Make it part of your daily beauty routine.

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