Cause & Prevention

Did you know that dull, discoloured skin trumps fine lines and wrinkles as the number one indicator of skin ageing? Studies have shown that most people cite an uneven complexion as the most prominent inhibitor of youthful-looking skin.1

What causes pigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation can appear out of nowhere – one day you’re basking in the sun, the next you’re plagued with age spots of every shape and size. But whether you’re battling melasma, sun damage or dark spots left behind from breakouts, understanding the cause is ultimately the key to preventing pigmentation irregularities and choosing an effective course of treatment.

Hyperpigmentation occurs when melanin – the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their natural colour – is overproduced in certain areas. This causes localised dark spots or patches on the skin. These patches can be light brown to black in colour and will often vary in terms of size and shape. Freckles, age spots and post-acne marks are all examples of hyperpigmentation. While it can affect anyone at any given time in their lives, it is most commonly seen in medium to dark skin tones. This is because darker skin has more melanin and therefore is much more susceptible to irregularity.

There are many different forms of hyperpigmentation, but for the most part they can be divided into three categories:

1. Hormonal

When oestrogen is elevated above a normal level, it can lead to a condition known as melasma that causes large areas of skin to darken. This is why many women notice flat, dark patches of skin developing during their pregnancy or after starting the contraceptive pill. In fact, it affects so many pregnant women (up to 90%)2 that it has been colloquially termed ‘the mask of pregnancy’. The good news for melasma sufferers is that the condition can often resolve itself once oestrogen levels have been rectified – after birth or after coming off hormonal contraceptives for instance. The bad news? It can take anywhere from a couple of months to a few years to fade on its own.

2. Inflammatory

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is what occurs after a pimple or bite has finished healing. It is essentially the skin’s natural response to any injury that causes the skin to become inflamed. As the inflammation subsides and the lesion begins to heal, the skin can often produce too much melanin causing the formerly-damaged skin to darken. PIH will improve over time (even if it’s left untreated) but this can take anywhere from three months to three years depending on the severity of the pigmentation. Generally speaking, the more inflammation there is, the more significant the PIH will be.

For those who are prone to blemishes, it’s important not to pick at the skin. Even when an extraction is performed correctly, it can still deepen the inflammation of a pimple increasing the likelihood of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

3. Sun-induced

This typically refers to age spots (or liver spots as they are otherwise known). This kind of hyperpigmentation is caused by sun damage. Despite the name, age has nothing to do with the condition. Anyone can be affected at any point in their lives. Interestingly, age spots do not necessarily appear at the same time that the skin is afflicted. Often you will find that sun damage accumulated in your 20s can start to surface in the 30s or 40s, which is why it’s imperative to use sunscreen every day from an early age. Other factors, such as environmental pollution and blue light from electronic screens can cause an increase in hyperpigmentation.

All cases of hyperpigmentation are worsened by sun exposure, so proper sun care is an absolute essential.


Medik8 has an extensive pigmentation solution to treat the different types of pigmentation. With patented oxyresveratrol technology, the solution approaches hyperpigmentation from multiple angles; promoting an even, luminous complexion. Brightening Serum uses 7 angles to tackle hyperpigmentation; combining ultimate brightener, oxyresveratrol, with exfoliating polyhydroxy acids. Learn more about the 7 steps to brightening.

Learn more

At Medik8 we offer a professional in-clinic treatment called Even Professional Skin Peel, that has been designed to target dull, hyperpigmented skin. Using advanced exfoliating acids, it buffs away dead, discoloured skin while delivering depigmenting agents deep to tackle hyperpigmentation. Find your local salon to try this treatment.

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1 D. Gunn, PLos One, 2009, 4(12), e8021
2 J.L. Schmutz, Presse Medicale, 2003, 32(38), pp 1806-8