What is hyperpigmentation and what causes it? -LIFE SMART by Carrie Dorr

By Cat Tatman

Simply put, it’s dark, discolored skin caused by an excess of melanin. Melanin gives our skin and hair color and protects the skin and skin cells from sunlight, as it has the ability to absorb UV radiation. 

However, it’s not quite that simple, there are types 4 types of hyperpigmentation and recommendations on how to treat each.


Carrie, you mentioned you developed hyperpigmentation during your first pregnancy; this is known as melasma. It’s often referred to as a ‘pregnancy mask’ and is caused by hormonal increases, including pregnancy and oral contraceptives. It typically appears as flat, large brown patches on cheeks, forehead, upper lip and jawline.   

Sun Spots

Also, referred to as age spots or liver spots are a result of UV exposure. They appear on face, chest and hands as flat, light to dark brown spots.

Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

PIH is caused by acne, injury or trama to the skin and appear as flat, pink, red or brown spots on the skin.


This is the most common type of hyperpigmentation and a result of sun exposure.  Those with a more fair complexion may be more susceptible to the appearance of freckles. 

Treatments include:

  • Chemical peels - recommended for melasma, sun spots and PIH

  • IPL treatments - recommended for sun spots & freckles

  • Microdermabrasion – recommended for all

  • Products with natural skin lightening ingredients - recommended for all

    • Kojic Acid

    • Gigawhite

    • Licorice Root Extract

    • Niacinamide (AKA Vitamin B3)

If you are pregnant or nursing consult your physician before any treatments.


You should also always wear a sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF to help prevent UV damage, as sun is a dominant contributor to hyperpigmentation and also exacerbates it.  Even when you wear sunscreen, if you are spending time in the sun, the UV rays will enhance the appearance of the dark spots.  If possible, limit your time in the sun and avoid direct sun on your face. 

Here are some products that contain the ingredients recommended.