Everyday activities like shaving or exfoliating are also potential culprits. The skin can be irritated from shaving, too much exfoliation, or simply trying a new product, especially deodorant, Dr. Elbuluk notes. “If you’re someone prone to ingrown hairs, you can get hyperpigmentation from that repeated inflammation,” she shares.
Talk to Your Doctor About Hyperpigmentation Treatments
A common DIY remedy for dark spots is aggressively scrubbing that area — like what my relatives were advising I do with the back of my neck. In general, however, over-exfoliating the skin in an effort to make it lighter is counterproductive if you’re looking to limit any potential inflammation. “This happens [when people] try to scrub the skin too hard, thinking that that will help, or use too many exfoliating products at the same time,” Dr. Elbuluk explains. The skin will most likely become irritated because the skin barrier is damaged, and then, that inflammation becomes hyperpigmentation. Areas with thinner skin, like the underarms, are more sensitive and vulnerable to inflammation.
However, there are some instances when these areas are darker due to an underlying health issue like insulin resistance or an endocrine disorder, Dr. Tzu shares. Identifying when those sections of the skin are darker because of an internal disorder may require you to rethink what’s “normal” for your complexion. Naturally, the body has multiple tones and hues, but if you’ve recently noticed some sort of new, drastic change, then Dr. Elbuluk suggests visiting a board-certified dermatologist or your primary care doctor to determine the cause. And when you do, she stresses that you should feel empowered to ask the doctor plenty of questions: what’s normal and what’s not for your skin, if you do or don’t need to use certain treatments, and anything else that comes to mind.
She notes that people of color can be hesitant about visiting a dermatologist. There are several potential reasons for that, including high medical costs, lack of access to dermatologists that understand skin conditions on darker skin, and general distrust of the medical field. As with any condition, this can make it more tempting to look to other places for help. “People rely heavily on not just who they know, but now social media, as well, and other sources,” she shares. “And there is some good information there, but there’s also a lot of misinformation.” That misinformation sometimes compels people to create their own remedies or seek out products that may end up exacerbating the issue.
Beware of Bleach
You can find plenty of bleaching and skin-lightening products on the internet and in beauty supply shops, many of which are hydroquinone-based. Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent commonly found in these and other skin-care products, but it’s not meant to be used without the supervision of a doctor. In 2020, the CARES Act classified it as a prescription drug, so you can only get it if it is prescribed by a dermatologist. Previously, people were able to buy products with the ingredient at a max of two percent up until the bill was ratified because of the dangers of improper use. The FDA notes that some reported side effects were skin rashes, facial swelling, and ochronosis, or darkening of the skin — exactly the opposite of what most people reaching for hydroquinone are hoping for.