Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that overwhelmingly affects people of color, and is especially problematic for those of African descent. The condition may be caused by skin injuries or irritation from acne breakouts, sun damage, medication side effects, cuts, scratches, or other tears to the skin. The injury or irritation results in a marked darkening of the affected area. This darkening is caused by an overproduction of melanin, the cells responsible for skin pigment.
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There are several prescription and over-the-counter treatments for hyperpigmentation. These include chemical peels, microdermabrasion and topical bleaching creams.
A chemical peel is a facial resurfacing procedure that involves using a chemical solution to remove the top layer of skin cells. Since the outermost layers of the skin are composed of dead skin cells, removing these cells lightens discolorations and improves the look and appearance of the skin. Great care should be taken to find a dermatologist who specializes in black skin as these treatments can result in irreversible damage and discomfort.
Microdermabrasion involves removing the outermost layer of skin by applying an abrasive force. However, microdermabrasion is one of the least desirable options for darker-skinned individuals as it often causes more hyperpigmentation post-surgery. A series of treatments is often required.
The most popular topical bleaching agents for hyperpigmentation are hydroquinone, tretinoin, and alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid. This option works best for individuals who prefer a non-invasive, more private method of treatment. These agents work by preventing certain enzymes in the skin from converting to new melanin while allowing the body to naturally lighten the skin over time. These treatments must be used on a regular basis and may take up to six months to begin lightening the skin. Bleaching creams can be purchased over the counter in formulations that include small percentages of active bleaching ingredients, or prescribed in more potent doses by a professional dermatologist.
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Prospective clients should be advised that the skin may look worse before it looks better after undergoing these treatments. For more invasive techniques, a recovery period of several weeks may be required as the skin begins to heal and recover. Additionally, swelling and redness are common side effects and should be expected. Reducing excess sun exposure and protecting the skin with sunscreen are the keys to getting the most out of any treatment.
Audrey Sivasothy, a Houston-based freelance writer, specializes in writing health, beauty, science, and policy pieces. She has published content for Turner and other clients for 4 years. She is currently writing a comprehensive hair care book on black/textured hair. Sivasothy holds a Bachelor of Science in health science/policy studies from Rice University.