What causes abnormal skin pigmentation and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Abnormal skin pigmentation, also known as skin discoloration, is a common concern for many individuals. It refers to any changes in the color of the skin, which can manifest as hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. These skin pigmentation disorders can lead to uneven skin tone, skin color irregularities, and other pigmentation abnormalities. In this article, we will explore the causes of abnormal skin pigmentation and provide valuable insights on how to address these skin pigmentation issues.

Understanding Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a condition characterized by the darkening of certain areas of the skin. It occurs when there is an overproduction of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. Some common causes of hyperpigmentation include:

  • Excessive sun exposure: UV rays stimulate melanin production, leading to dark spots or sunspots.
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, and certain medications can trigger hyperpigmentation.
  • Inflammation or injury: Acne, eczema, and other skin conditions can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
  • Aging: As we age, our skin becomes more prone to developing age spots or liver spots.

To address hyperpigmentation, consider the following tips:

  • Apply sunscreen: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF.
  • Use topical treatments: Look for products containing ingredients like hydroquinone, retinoids, or vitamin C, which can help lighten dark spots.
  • Consider professional treatments: Chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and laser therapy can be effective in reducing hyperpigmentation.

Understanding Hypopigmentation

Hypopigmentation, on the other hand, refers to the loss of skin color in certain areas. It occurs when there is a decrease in melanin production or distribution. Some common causes of hypopigmentation include:

  • Vitiligo: An autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks and destroys melanocytes, resulting in white patches on the skin.
  • Albinism: A genetic condition characterized by the absence or reduction of melanin production, leading to very light or white skin, hair, and eyes.
  • Scarring: Injuries or burns can damage the melanocytes, causing hypopigmentation in the affected area.
  • Certain skin conditions: Conditions like pityriasis alba or tinea versicolor can cause temporary hypopigmentation.

To address hypopigmentation, consider the following tips:

  • Protect your skin: Since individuals with hypopigmentation are more susceptible to sunburns, it is crucial to use sunscreen and protective clothing.
  • Camouflage techniques: Cosmetics, such as color-correcting creams or self-tanners, can help even out the skin tone and conceal hypopigmented areas.
  • Medical treatments: Dermatologists may recommend treatments like topical corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors, or phototherapy to stimulate melanin production.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While some skin pigmentation issues can be managed with over-the-counter treatments, it is essential to consult a dermatologist if you experience severe or persistent symptoms. A dermatologist can accurately diagnose the underlying cause of your skin pigmentation problem and recommend appropriate treatment options.


Abnormal skin pigmentation can be a source of concern for many individuals. Whether it is hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, understanding the causes and available treatment options is crucial. By protecting your skin from excessive sun exposure, using appropriate skincare products, and seeking professional advice when needed, you can effectively manage and address skin pigmentation issues. Remember, each person’s skin is unique, so it may take time to find the right approach for your specific condition. Embrace your skin’s natural beauty and consult with a dermatologist for personalized guidance and support.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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