What Does Your Skin's Pigmentation Say About Your Health?

07.16.2014, 13:52 CDT | Posted In: Uneven Skin Tone & Dark Spots, Products, Skin Care

What Does Your Skin's Pigmentation Say About Your Health?

You go to great lengths to keep your skin looking its best by using serums, creams, and different regimens, all of which play an important part in managing healthy-looking skin. However, while it’s important to focus on the end result, it’s also important to understand what’s happening underneath your skin to affect its pigmentation, or color. After all, understanding what’s happening at a scientific level can provide you with more tools to help you keep your skin as healthy as possible.

What is pigmentation?
Pigmentation is the color of a person’s skin; in some cases, pigmentation can be indicative of a person’s state of health. If someone experiences an illness or injury, their skin’s pigmentation may be affected and become lighter (hypopigmentation) or darker (hyperpigmentation).1 Hence, it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in pigmentation, as this might hint at damage being done to your skin.

What causes changes in pigmentation?
Surprisingly, 90% of what we perceive as aging is actually caused by factors that you can control, the main one being the amount of time your skin spends exposed to the sun.2 Excessive sun exposure may be responsible for structural changes in the skin that will not be seen for years, and can also cause drastic changes to your skin’s pigmentation.1,2

The sun’s rays actually speed up how active your skin cells, or melanocytes, are. Melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color, so more exposure to the sun’s radiation means more pigment in your skin.3

Learn more about pigmentation problems and how to treat them here.

Pigmentation changes may also take place in those who have darker skin, as dark skin tends to have more melanin, which makes one more susceptible to a condition known as melasma. Also known as “pregnancy mask,” melasma is characterized by brown or tan patches on the face and is caused by a change in hormone levels.4 It is most common in expectant mothers, although men can also develop the condition.

Additionally, changes in pigmentation may also be attributed to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH, which is caused by trauma to the skin such as bug bites and acne, are dark spots that remain long after the initial inflammation has healed.5

Treatment and prevention
The good news is that you can manage pigmentation changes to your skin by limiting your exposure to the sun and avoiding unnecessary trauma to your skin. Some easy-to-follow recommendations include wearing sunscreen every day, bringing a hat or umbrella for further protection from the sun, and always wearing sunglasses. It’s also important to leave blemishes and acne scars alone so they heal properly.6

For years, hydroquinone has been considered by many to be the gold standard for treating pigmentation issues and is a key ingredient in our Obagi Nu-Derm® System,* which is ideal for treating age spots, dark spots, and melasma. Reach out to your doctor today to learn more about hyperpigmentation and the possible ways to reduce its appearance on your skin.

Last updated: 4/19/16


*Not available in select states including MA, MT, NH, NY, and TX, due to state regulations regarding the ability of physicians to dispense prescription drug products in their offices. As a non-prescription cosmetic alternative, learn about the Nu-Derm Fx System.




  1. Hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, and your skin. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hyperpigmentation-hypopigmentation. Reviewed July 11, 2012. Accessed May 28, 2014.
  2. Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts. Accessed April 19, 2016.
  3. Age spots (liver spots). Mayo Clinic Web site. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/age-spots/basics/causes/con-20030473. Accessed May 28, 2014.
  4. Skin conditions in pregnancy. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/baby/skin-conditions-pregnancy. Reviewed July 12, 2012. Accessed May 28, 2014.
  5. Hertzig AK. Brighten up. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/beauty/face/brighten-up. Published August 20, 2007. Accessed May 28, 2014.
  6. Jackson-Cannady A. Coping with acne: your care plan. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/acne-care-11/acne-scars. Accessed June 12, 2014.

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