Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.




Hyperpigmentation is the increase in the natural color of the skin.


Melanin, a brown pigment manufactured by certain cells in the skin called melanocytes, is responsible for skin color. Melanin production is stimulated by a pituitary hormone called melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH). Other pigments appear in the skin much less often.

Causes and symptoms

Darkened spots on the skin come in several varieties. The most ominous is malignant melanoma, a very aggressive cancer that begins as an innocent mole. The majority of moles (nevus), however, are and remain benign (harmless). The average person has several dozen, and certain people with a hereditary excess may have hundreds. Freckles, age spots, and cafe au lait spots, known as ephelides, are always flat and not as dark. Cafe au lait spots are seen mostly in people with another hereditary disorder called neurofibromatosis. "Port wine stains" are congenital dark red blotches on the skin. Other common dark colorations on the skin are called keratosis and consist of locally overgrown layers of skin that are dark primarily because there is more tissue than normal. A few of these turn into skin cancers of a much less dangerous kind than melanoma.
Darkened regions of the skin occur as a result of abnormal tanning when the skin is sensitive to sunlight. Several diseases and many drugs can cause photosensitivity. Among the common drugs responsible for this uncommon reaction are birth control pills, antibiotics (sulfonamides and tetracyclines), diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), pain relievers, and some psychoactive medications. Some of the same drugs may also cause patches of discolored skin known as localized drug reactions and representing an allergy to that drug. Sunlight darkens an abnormal chemical in the skin of patients with porphyria cutanea tarda. Several endocrine diseases, some cancers, and several drugs abnormally stimulate melanocytes, usually through an overproduction of MSH. Arsenic poisoning and Addison's disease are among these causes. A condition known as acanthosis nigricans is a velvety darkening of skin in folded areas (arm pits, groin, and neck) that can signal a cancer or hormone imbalance.
Of particular note is a condition called melasma (dark pigmentation of the skin), caused by the female hormone estrogen. Normal in pregnancy, this brownish discoloration of the face can also happen with birth control pills that contain estrogen.
Overall darkening of the skin may be due to pigmented chemicals in the skin. Silver, gold, and iron each have a characteristic color when visible in the skin. Several drugs and body chemicals, like bilirubin, can end up as deposits in the skin and discolor it.
There are a number of other rare entities that color the skin, each in its own peculiar way. Among these are strange syndromes that seem to be birth defects and vitamin and nutritional deficiencies.


The pattern of discoloration is immediately visible to the trained dermatologist, a physician specializing in skin diseases, and may be all that is required to name and characterize the discoloration. Many of these pigment changes are signs of internal disease that must be identified. Pigmentation changes may also be caused by medication, and the drug responsible for the reaction must be identified and removed.


Skin sensitive to sunlight must be protected by shade or sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or greater. Skin cancers must be, and unsightly benign lesions may be, surgically removed. Laser surgery is an effective removal technique for many localized lesions. Because it spreads so rapidly, melanoma should be immediately removed, as well as some of the surrounding tissue to prevent regrowth.


Sunlight is the leading cause of dark spots on the skin, so shade and sunscreens are necessary preventive strategies, especially in people who burn easily.



Bernstein L. J., et al. "The Short- and Long-term Side Effects of Carbon Dioxide Laser Resurfacing." Dermatologic Surgery 23 (July 1997): 519-525.

Key terms

Addison's disease — A degenerative disease that is characterized by weight loss, low blood pressure, extreme weakness, and dark brown pigmentation of the skin.
Dermatologist — A physician specializing in the study of skin conditions and diseases
Diuretic — A cause of increased urine flow.
Keratosis — A skin disease characterized by an overgrowth of skin, which usually appears discolored.
Lesion — Any localized abnormality.
Melasma — Dark pigmentation of the skin.
Neurofibromatosis — Otherwise known as von Recklinghausen's disease, consists of pigmented skin spots and numerous soft tumors all over the body.
Nevus — Birthmark or mole.
NSAID — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and many others.
Porphyria cutanea tarda — An inherited disease that results in the overproduction of porphyrins.
Syndrome — Common features of a disease or features that appear together often enough to suggest they may represent a single, as yet unknown, disease entity.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


abnormally increased pigmentation.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


An excess of pigment in a tissue or part.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


Excess pigmentation, especially of the skin.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


An excess of pigment in a tissue or part.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Abnormally increased numbers of pigment cells (melanocytes) in a particular area of the body.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


An excess of pigment in a tissue or part.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Hyperpigmentation disorders comprise a large group of benign skin conditions and their prevalence may vary with race and ethnicity.
(1) Most patients diagnosed with TFFD report that the hyperpigmentation does not improve despite washing with soap and water.
Benjamin Puckey, a make-up artist, said that hyperpigmentation aside, he sees "the same variations in skin type with women of colour as with women of any other skin tone."
To reduce the risks of hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation from procedures, he generally advises against the use of intense pulsed light (IPL), fractional ablative lasers, shorter-wave-length lasers, and cryotherapy.
Hyperpigmentation has been reported to occur with anticancer drugs, which may be in the form of diffuse or localised involvement of skin, mucosa or nails.
PinkGoddess cream is a home remedy for topical use designed to help people get rid of the hyperpigmentation. The Product's active ingredients are mentioned on the producer's official website and these include Beeswax (Cera Alba), Licorice, and Glycolic and Caprylic acids.
Paresthesias and numbness was present in 7/49 (14.29%) cases, hyperpigmentation in 6/49 (12.24%), myalgias in 3/49 (6.12%) and carpopedal spasm in 2/49 (4.08%) cases.
Physical examination revealed cutaneous hyperpigmentation on the body/on lower and upper extremity skin except knees and elbows, bilateral hypertrichosis on lower extremity (proximal), hepatosplenomegaly (splenomegaly), bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, heart anomalies, hyperglycemia (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus), hallux valgus/flexion contractures (flexion contractures on bilateral hands/feet).
"Most of the time, the postinflammatory hyperpigmentation [PIH] has much more impact on the patient's quality of life even than the disease itself, so you need to be very careful when treating these patients," said Dr.
(1,2) With repeated exposure, brown hyperpigmentation may develop.
A 46-year-old gentleman from Sudan without any chronic medical illness or drug use presented with fatigue and hyperpigmentation on the dorsal aspects of the hands and feet.