7 Common Causes of Pigmentation

Dr. Ravi Khambhati

Table of Contents

Skin layers contain pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes. When these melanocytes become affected they tend to produce pigments, which leads to pigmentation or abnormal colouring of the skin.

What Causes Pigmentation?

Pigmentation is primarily of two types: Hyperpigmentation and Hypo-pigmentation. The most commonly seen one is hyperpigmentation.

Seven Common Causes Of Pigmentation:

  1. Pregnancy

During pregnancy, hormones wreak havoc on a woman's body and coupled with other factors like vitamin D, deficiency of zinc, exposure to UV light, and familial factors, it leads to a type of skin pigmentation known as melasma. This occurs due to excessive melanin production by melanocytes in response to the hormonal imbalance in the body.

2.  Medications

Many medications, including chemotherapy drugs, cause increased pigmentation on the skin. Many medicated creams and ointments tend to react with the UV light of the sun and cause increased skin pigmentation.

3.  Acne

Acne or commonly referred to as pimples is another common cause of pigmentation. Once the pimples or the acne has healed, they leave darkened spots on the skin called acne scars.

4.  Post-Inflammatory Pigmentation

This type of pigmentation is often dark brown, tan, or black in colour and is usually seen after an inflammatory response to a wound, burn, or injury. The skin becomes pigmented due to melanin production as a response to the inflammation in the area.

5.  Exposure to Sunlight

There are two types of pigmentations which result due to exposure to the Sun. The first is a tan which changes the colour of the skin to a darker shade. The other type of pigmentation on exposure to the sun is called solar lentigines. These occur due to the overexposure to the sun rays and result in clumping of the melanin at the surface of the skin. This is also called sunburn and is also dark brown in colour.

6.  Ageing

Another cause for skin pigmentation, primarily the sun-exposed regions of the face like the cheeks and cheekbones are the age spots or liver spots. They are light brown to dark brown in colour and often oval in shape. They occur as a result of the ageing process and so, are seen in people over 40. These spots can be aggravated on exposure to the sun.

7.  Underlying Medical Conditions

Some underlying medical conditions like liver or kidney disease often cause pigmentation of the skin. Even endocrine diseases like Addison's disease can cause pigmentation of the skin.

Treatment And Prevention Of Pigmentation

Most pigmentation-related concerns are referred to a dermatologist or a skin specialist. The first step involves a comprehensive skin analysis performed by the dermatologist using skin analysis tests like Siascopy. The causes for pigmentation can sometimes be multifactorial and so the treatment plan is often a combination therapy of different treatments.

In conditions like melasma, which is hormone related, the best thing to do is wait out the period of pregnancy and bring down the hormonal levels to normal. The pigmentation issue mostly always gets resolved.

In superficial pigmentation cases, topical medications are commonly prescribed for a few weeks. They can also be treated using lasers and light therapy including Intense Pulse Light (IPL) and Photo Dynamic Therapy (DPT). These treatments often need 3-6 sittings with a dermatologist and can vary with each case.

For some deep pigmentation, fractional lasers are most commonly used.

As an adjunct to these in-clinic treatment modalities, your dermatologist will also recommend some home-care regimes to further accelerate the treatment of skin pigmentation. These include face creams, face packs and peel-offs, day and night creams etc.


Pigmentation, whatever be its form, can be serious and if left untreated or not properly taken care of can be very harmful in the long run. Use of sunscreen and the preventive measures mentioned above can greatly reduce the effects of pigmentation.

Therefore, don't take skin pigmentation lightly.

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Dr. Ravi Khambhati

MBBS, DVD - Dermatology