What Is Hyperpigmentation? This Skin Condition Is Common Among Women Of Colour & We Need To Talk About It

By
Lateefah Jean

Have you ever had a spot that just never seems to go away, and then, when it finally does, you're left with a scar? Well, same! In fact, it's something I have experienced time and time again for the last decade, and have only recently discovered the cause of. The truth is, this kind of scarring may be a sign of hyperpigmentation, a common skin condition that we all need to be talking about. Because, in my experience, the more you know, the easier it is to deal with.

According to Healthline, hyperpigmentation is “a medical term used to describe darker patches of skin. These patches result from excess melanin production, which can be caused by everything from acne scars and sun damage to hormone fluctuations.”

Although hyperpigmentation is not exclusive to women of colour, as Medical and Cosmetic Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe aka the SKNDOCTOR tells me, "hyperpigmentation is caused by an over-production of melanin, which is common amongst women of colour."

Ukeleghe continues: "The most common reason for hyperpigmentation in WOC is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation secondary to acne. Skin of colour has a tendency to have an unbalanced response to inflammation (i.e. acne) and injury, which manifests itself as hyperpigmentation."

Hyperpigmentation is caused by an over-production of melanin, which is common amongst women of colour

Beyond the obvious physical effects, hyperpigmentation can often have an impact on your self-confidence. When I was about 14 years old, I remember having this huge spot between my eyebrows. Eventually the spot started to fade away, but I remember being left with this huge dark brown scar. As I got older, I started to get a lot more spots on my forehead area, which resulted in acne scarring. I remember a family member telling me I needed to wash my face more. At the time I was washing and cleansing my face twice a day! There's seems to be an assumption that, if you have acne scarring, your skin is dirty or you’re not taking care of it, which simply isn't true. Even though I know the comment made by my relative wasn’t intended to hurt my feelings, it did. And the scarring just got worse and worse — to the point where I wouldn’t leave the house without make-up. I would even put on foundation to go to the corner shop that was literally a minute's walk from my house.

This routine of caking my face in make-up continued right through until college. At that point, I still had no idea what hyperpigmentation was. All I knew was that I had these scars all over my forehead and I was willing to do anything to hide them.

There's seems to be an assumption that, if you have acne scarring, your skin is dirty or you’re not taking care of it, which simply isn't true

"When dealing with hyperpigmentation it's crucial to ensure that your skincare routine is made up of active ingredients that will brighten and exfoliate the skin," says Dr Ukeleghe. "Look out for products that contain any of the following: Vitamin C, Kojic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid), Arbutin, and Retinol."

Unfortunately, I didn’t know all this information during my teenage years, so I started looking into extreme measures to get rid of my scars, including buying dodgy skin creams online. (Thankfully, I never went through with actually buying them, but it just goes to show how far I was willing to go.)

I started looking into extreme measures to get rid of my scars

I remember, one time, I scrubbed a scar I had with my highly acidic toner, in hopes was that I could get rid of the scar, but all it did was burn my skin and make the scar ten-times worse (and, yes, it was as painful as it sounds). It was stupid, I know. But put yourself in my shoes. I was a socially awkward and insecure teenager who knew nothing about skincare. All I knew was that I went from having skin that resembled one of the girls on the Glossier Instagram page to having a new scar pop up every other week.

After years of buying any and all skincare products emblazoned with the words “brightens” or “exfoliates,” I can finally say that I have created a skincare regime that works for me, and I’m definitely seeing the results.

Every morning and night I cleanse and gently exfoliate using Biore charcoal anti-blemish scrub (with two drops of tea tree oil/peppermint oil), then I go in with my Nip&Fab glycolic fix liquid glow toner, then I apply The Ordinary niacinamide serum or Body Shop vitamin E overnight serum-in-oil, and then finish off by apply my Body Shop vitamin C glow boosting moisturiser and Ole Henriksin bright banana eye cream. In addition to this, every Sunday I do a face mask and a face sheet mask. I use the Body Shop Himalayan Charcoal Purifying Glow mask, and the Garnier Moisture Bomb sheet masks.

So, instead of coating my face with make-up in a desperate attempt to cover my scars, I have made the decision to accept them

However, I should say: I'm not a skincare expert. These are just the products that have been working well for me. Everyone's skin is different, and it's important try out a few products before you settle on the ones that'll become part of your daily routine.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and say there aren’t still times when I wish I didn’t look in the mirror, see a spot, and think, “yep, that’s going to leave a scar.” But I’ve come to the realisation that I will always have to deal with hyperpigmentation. So, instead of coating my face with make-up in a desperate attempt to cover my scars, I have made the decision to accept them.

Coming to a place of acceptance has done wonders for my confidence. It has helped me let go of my insecurities, and not worry about the way I look without make-up. This, in turn, has made my day-to-day life run a whole lot smoother, as I no longer feel the need to wake up extra early in the morning to put on make-up before work or cover my face in foundation if I'm going out to run an errand.

It’s something a lot of us experience but we’re still embarrassed to talk about

Hyperpigmentation can be difficult to deal with, especially for a woman of colour such as myself. It’s something a lot of us experience, but unfortunately, even with the influx of "How to" videos surrounding hyperpigmentation and articles coming out about the condition, we’re still embarrassed to talk about it. I can’t even begin to explain how empowered I have felt seeing women such as Beauty Influencer Jackie Aina and Vogue Contributing Beauty Editor Fumni Fetto speak about hyperpigmentation. Hearing these ladies share their experiences has helped me not only to top being ashamed of my scars, but also to take matters into my own hands and find products that cater to my skin.

I think it’s time we do away with the embarrassment and find solutions that work for us. And the only way we'll get there is if we start to speak openly and honestly about hyperpigmentation.