What's the Difference Between Hypo and Hyperpigmentation?
Medical terminology is hard. You know why? Because most of it comes from the Latin and Greek languages. And just for fun, they threw in some French and Italian!
We think that about 3/4 of medical terminology comes from Greek culture. They were the first people to describe diseases based on their observations. In fact, many of the Greek names for medical conditions are still used today - arthritis, nephritis, and pleuritis (pleurisy) to name a few.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that people in healthcare usually take medical terminology classes at the beginning of their coursework. So to be able to explain to you well, I need to start with some definitions. Sorry!
Hypo and hyperpigmentation are opposites. Following are their causes and definitions:
Melanin is the pigment secreted by the melanocytes in your skin. Melanin gives human skin, hair, and even eyes their color. Light skinned people have less melanin in their skin than people with dark skin.
Hypopigmentation is the absence of normal amounts of melanin. In simpler terms, it means loss of skin color.
Post inflammatory hypopigmentation is the most common cause of hypopigmentation. It is damage to the skin (like burns, pimples, burns and scrapes) that cause scarring and result in lightening of the skin.
Hyperpigmentation is an increase in melanin or pigment.
Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation is excess pigment because of an injury to skin. It can occur in any skin type, but is more common in people of African, Asian, Latin, and Indian descent.
Why do some people get hypo or hyperpigmentation with skin treatments?
Hypopigmentation can be caused by disease (vitiligo), genetics (albinism, a rare genetic disorder causing a lack of melanin in the body), burns or any other trauma to the skin that causes scarring (like infections or blisters).
- Poorly administered skin resurfacing treatments can cause damage resulting in hypopigmentation.
- Some people are also more prone to hypopigmentation than others.
- People with dark skin are at higher risk for hypopigmentation than those with light skin.
Most times this color loss, called post inflammatory hypopigmentation, is not permanent. However, it can take a long time to regenerate the lost pigment. Learn more about hypopigmentation in our post, Light Spots & Hypopigmentation - 9 Ways to Fix Them.
Sun exposure is a major cause of hyperpigmentation, and more sun exposure can worsen areas that are already dark.
Pregnancy and other conditions that cause a change in hormone levels can cause hyperpigmentation (like melasma). It can also be caused by medications like the pill, some antibiotics, antiarrhythmics and antimalarials. (Learn more in our blog posts, Melasma Treatment - 10 Things That Really Work AND Can medications cause dark spots?)
Additionally, melanin can be overproduced after a skin injury (like burns, cuts or acne). This is also called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Ways To Prevent Skin Color Changes:
A good skin care regimen includes vitamin A (retinoids), antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and SUNSCREEN. Use them regularly to care for your skin! Healthy skin is less susceptible to color changes.
Your skin is delicate. Improperly administered skin treatments can cause hypo and hyperpigmentation. Make sure you trust your practitioner. Check their credentials and discuss all risks before having any type of skin treatment. Discuss your Fitzpatrick skin type (a medical measure of skin color) and make sure any laser used is safe for your skin. Some lasers are only safe on lighter skin.
If hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation has been a problem for you in the past, ask your medical provider about spot testing the desired treatment on a small area of skin. Once you know how your skin reacts, you can decide to move forward with the treatment or your provider can discuss other options available to you.
Micro-needling is one method of skin rejuvenation that has proven safe for all skin types. Click the link to learn more about why it is better than other methods of skin restoration. If you want to learn about other methods of skin rejuvenation, check out our blog post, "You’ve decided to do some skin rejuvenation, but how do you decide what to work on first?"
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Thanks for reading!
If you liked this post, you'll LOVE these:
Gershon, Joel, D’Angelo, Janet, Deitz, Sallie, & Lotz, Shelley (2013). Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals, Eleventh Edition. Clifton Park, NY: Milady.
Repas, L. (2013). Basics of Medical Terminology: Latin and Greek Origins. Debrecen, Hungary: Litográfia Nyomda.
The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!