Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 03rd Nov 2020

Why are Indians prone to hyperpigmentation? And how do we prevent it?

Why are Indians prone to hyperpigmentation?

We, Indians, have long been suffering through patchy skin and dark spots and these concerns hardly go away with a weekly face mask. Moreover, they are left unattended and become worse with time.

Hyperpigmentation is among the biggest skincare concerns in Indian women, and people who have it are often unaware of the treatments that can address these concerns.  

Understanding hyperpigmentation

Have you noticed unusual dark spots on your face and small areas of discolored skin on your body? It just might be the sign of skin pigmentation, also called hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation is a big skincare concern in India.  

What is hyperpigmentation?  

The natural pigment present in your hair, skin, and eye, melanin, lends them color. Hyperpigmentation occurs when melanin production is abundant in your body, leading to a change in your skin tone color.

Freckles, age spots, brown or beige marks, or a confluence of dark color patches on the skin are all forms in which hyperpigmentation occurs on any part of your body.

Melasma, liver spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are types of hyperpigmentation.  

What causes your skin to hyper pigment?  

Sun exposure, hormonal fluctuations, trauma, heat, genetics, and post-inflammatory (acne or chickenpox) may encourage your skin to produce melanin.

Sun exposure is the leading cause of discoloration of the skin. 70 to 80% of pigmentation is caused by the sun.

Apart from sun exposure, hormonal imbalances, certain medications, and conditions such as Addison's disease may lead you right to pigmentation.  

Hyperpigmentation Treatments 

The myriad of causes combined with genetics and natural skin color makes it important to learn what works specifically for us.

Hyperpigmentation may seem stubborn, but it can be treated with the use of the right products and a few preventive cautions.

No one solution fits everyone.

Depth of hyperpigmentation, i.e., dermal- deeper and requires intensive treatments or epidermal. The upper layers of the skin and easier to treat are important factors.

There are all kinds of treatments that can work for you, from minimally invasive to extensive in-office procedures.

A robust medically assessed skincare routine can gradually improve skin quality in two to three weeks and ultimately cure it in six months.  

Why is Indian skin more prone to hyperpigmentation?

Asian skin tends to have more melanin than Caucasian skin. Hence Indian skin is comparatively more prone to skin discoloration.

Medium, olive, and darker skin tones often experience hyperpigmentation more than their counterparts due to skin's genetic tendency to tan in response to noxious stimuli.

We Indians lack some essential antioxidants and are exposed to pollution, stress and dust. Even pesticides are excessive that they can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the result of free radicals and antioxidant imbalance in your body. Free radicals damage healthy skin cells, along with other cells.

We live in the tropics. One of the primary skin concerns is pigmentation and tanning. While we wrinkle comparatively lesser than westerners, we pigment heavily. And our tropical conditions demand from us an imperative measure to protect our skin all the time from UVA and UVB rays, and of course the pollution.

The common myth that has plagued most of us is that people of darker complexions have natural protection from UV light is not something that you should invest in. Most of us Indians are keen on wrinkle treatments and boastful fairness creams, but not all of us invest in healthy skincare. 

The ignorance of sunscreens that have plagued our choices.  

Your skin health should start with sunscreen. Most Indians think that they are immune to sunburns, and while they are sunburned. Dark complexion doesn't allow the sunburn redness to appear, but it does feel tight, hot, or painful. There is a possibility that you may have already experienced sunburn without knowing it.

There is an element of vanity that overshadows our choice to apply sunscreen. Most people do not invest in sunscreen due to its non-matte look and the oil build-up that progresses during the day and makes your appearance shiny and, eventually, even pimples. But there is a solution to it, and it makes the sunscreen a much more viable option for you, and that is a moisturizing sunscreen, a hybrid product that hydrates your skin and prevents oil accumulation.

We weren't taught to follow up on sunscreen as a routine, but now the times are different. We see parents lathering their kids with sunscreen, especially during a swim class. It is a routine that we should accept as adults and preach religiously.

It is not just when you step out, but the UVB rays projected from the screens at work and home also expose us to skin damage.

Hundreds of thousands of Indians aren't regular with their sun care skin regimen. According to a 2013 case study, sunburn is the most common skin damage caused by natural light. Ignorant usage and inadequate application add to the already prevalent sunburn, despite using sunscreen agents.

A report for the Birla Institute of technology in 2013 states that SPF regulation in India is not as constrained as in other countries, so consumers need to be wary of what sunscreen they go with. There is no fixed maximum SPF spectrum; this has led to the flourish of natural and Ayurvedic/herbal products with higher SPFs.

Tolerances of SPF vary across populations. The same goes for allergies and other irritation towards these products. Age is also one of the elements to consider, as a response to sunscreens varies across ages. So pile up and lather yourself in the right sunscreen and use this generously, summer or not.

Indians are not yet as hands-on with sunscreens as they should be. That is the need for the hour, at home or not, summer! The 30-plus degree and the city's painfully dehydrating heat require a valuable protectant, which most adults ignore. 

Better than cure: Hyperpigmentation prevention guide   

Yes, there is little care and attention required, but pigmentation can be prevented.

You need to be more careful if you are spending your time in front of a screen or using products that leave your skin vulnerable to the sun, like retinol or acids.  

Oral prescriptions

Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals & prevents oxidative stress. An excellent antioxidant diet also helps you achieve your healthy skin goal. 

Topical products 

Skincare products with antioxidant ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, and ferulic acid can prevent pigmentation. Creams inclusive of active topical agents like berry extracts, arbutin, vitamin C and glycolic acid, and azelaic acid in the market claim to treat pigmentation.

They are good, but correct concentrations are necessary to yield the best results.

They work by prohibiting melanin production and simultaneously increase cell turnover by sloughing the top dead skin layer to flush the existing pigmentation.

Overnight applications of these agents can help you but talk to your derm first.

Sunscreen is almost mandatory for people on birth control during pregnancy and menopause as the skin is more susceptible during these times.  

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The mandatory sunscreen game

A good amount of sunblock, at least two tablespoons, helps prevent sun exposure, and it also creates a strong shield and a barrier against harmful sunlight. UV exposure triggers melanin production as a defense and protection mechanism, and making yourself vulnerable in front of the rays can cause dark patches on skin exposed areas.

Lather it 15 to 30 minutes before stepping out.  

Hyperpigmentation in your 30s 

Babies are getting all the care and concern considering sunscreens application, but why are we neglecting adults. Ages 20-40 have oily skin, and they should opt for a non-greasy oil-free sunscreen. With age, skin turns drier and drier. Hence it is best to use a moisturizing or liquid-based sunscreen.  

  • Understand and treat your hormonal imbalances. It helps in avoiding skin pigmentation and chloasma.  
  • If you tan easily, use skin protective scarfs or hats to block sun damage. Consume anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric, green, leafy vegetables, berries, tomatoes, pomegranate, and fish.
  • Apply an SPF 30 or more with PA++ and use a double cleansing gel to rid the skin of pollution residue.
  • SPF moisturizer of 30/higher should be used/applied as a base before applying makeup. Let the moisturizer set in and absorb for a few minutes before doing your makeup. 
  • Harsh acne products for blemish control might have worked in your 20s but be extra careful/cautious in your 30s. Your skin may react differently, damaging it and making it look older. Go for gentler options that will retain your skin's natural oils and give it a realistic and healthy goal.  

Pamper your skin the most during your 30s. It helps you fight aging signs such as wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation, and dullness. The decades of sun exposure under your belt, you might notice dark spots popping up on your face.

These are caused by years of low-grade sun exposure, which stimulates pigment-producing cells to kick into one drive. Acne scars will fade slower than it used to, which is your crawling cell turnover. Darker skin types often experience higher degree pigmentation changes.   

Hydroquinone 

Over-the-counter preparations are available in two percent or lesser concentrations. Prescription length hydroquinone prescribed by your dermatologist of higher concentration is one of the most powerful tyrosinase inhibitors, a key enzyme in melanin or pigment production. 

Alpha Arbutin 

You may also include alpha arbutin in your routine, for instance, a combination of alpha-arbutin with hyaluronic acid, a daily anti-pigmentation serum. The arbutin present reduces dark spots and blemishes dramatically for brighter, more even skin.

Hyaluronic acid is a soothing skin enhancer, and alpha-arbutin is potent and safe skin lightening active. It reduces the sun's tanning degree after UV exposure giving you clear and radiant skin. 

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Retinoids  

Retinoids, a key anti-aging ingredient, is a collagen remodeler and a cure for discoloration. Clinical studies using Tretinoin have shown effectiveness for brown spots.

Lastly, keep your skin and body hydrated, don't stress, exercise, and never forget to apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or more regularly to keep your body and skin healthy.  

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Minimalist's Advice: 

Investing in a good sunscreen now is better than emptying your bank balances for anti-aging creams and wrinkle treatments moving forward, as all other products are nothing but waste without sunscreen.  

The sun-damage is often deeper, and getting a de-tan is barely a quick solution. Start your care at home and be regular rather than fixing the issue through a facialist. Hyperpigmentation is like any other health issue and requires care.

The right sunscreen can potentially prevent wrinkles, early signs of aging, and cancers. Your anti-aging routine should start with sunscreen, that too, at six months of your age, and it should continue religiously for the rest of your life regardless of your skin pigmentation scenario.

Hyperpigmentation treatments take time. It is mostly a multi-modality approach, and your lapses like going into the sun, even if only for a short time, can cause a rapid recurrence of the condition.  

Wrapping it up: 

You obviously cannot control your genes, but simple self-care is all you need to get through and prevent pigmentation altogether. Sunscreen is the most preventive care as UV rays and blue light makes pigmentation darker and increases the number of spots in the process.