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Skin colour is influenced by a person's genetic heritage as well as environmental factors. It is determined by the amount of pigment (melanin) that is produced in the skin. Natural pigment is nature's way of protecting the skin from ultraviolet light.
Hyperpigmentation is a common condition in which patches of skin become darker in colour than the normal surrounding skin. Uneven pigmentation of the skin may be a natural occurrence or related to ultraviolet light, infection, hormones, drugs, acne or topical chemicals applied to the skin. There are also skin diseases and genetic abnormalities that can cause hyperpigmentation. Common causes of hyperpigmentation include sunspots, freckles, acne spots and melasma.
Sun spots, freckles are common forms of hyperpigmentation. They occur due to cumulative sun exposure. This happens because melanin absorbs the energy of the sun's harmful rays in order to protect the skin from overexposure. The most common areas involved are the face, neck, upper chest and arms.
Melasma are larger areas of darkened skin especially around the cheek areas and are most often as a result of hormonal changes. Pregnancy, consumption of oral contraceptive pills can trigger overproduction of melanin, resulting in patches of skin darkening.

What can be done?

Wearing a sunscreen is a must as sun aggravates all the above conditions. The sunscreen must be broad spectrum i.e., it blocks out both ultraviolet A and B rays. It is essential that sun protection be used at least SPF 15 or greater. Sun protection should be applied ever 4-6 hours and sunlight is strongest between 10am to 4pm. It is important to remember that sunlight passes through glass and exposure accumulates during the course of the entire day.

Skin darkening is usually treated with bleaching agents such as hydroquinone and mild acids such as glycolic, kojic and retinoic acids. The improvement maybe slow and may take up to 4-6 months. Hydroxy acid peels, microdermabrasion exfoliate the outermost layer of the skin and can also help lighten the skin. There are now several highly highly effective laser and IPL treatments available in the market for skin lightening.


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