Skin Pigmentation Changes: What are the Causes?

Throughout our lives, everything about our bodies changes, including our skin pigmentation. Often this just means an aesthetic difference, but other times changes can be indicative of deeper health problems. Read more to find out what may be causing the change in your skin tone.


The sun is the most well known cause of changes in pigmentation and the sun’s effects are experienced by almost everyone. In the short term, the sun gives a gorgeous tan and cute freckles, but the long term effects are less satisfactory. Sun exposure can cause the development of dark spots and keratosis, which can develop into skin cancer. As 80% of instances of skin cancer appear on the face, head or neck, skin cancer has serious implications for both your health and your appearance.

Skin Damage

Skin damage is another cause of changes in pigmentation that is almost universally experienced. Scraps, cuts, infections, blisters, and burns can all cause a lack of pigmentation. This decreased pigmentation is typically temporary, but may take a long time to heal and can even be permanent, such as with scars. Taking proper care of a wound while it heals, no matter the size, can make a huge difference in minimizing and even preventing changes in pigmentation.


In addition to sun exposure and skin damage, there are a several disorders that can cause changes in the pigmentation of the skin, either permanently or temporarily. In some cases the condition causes no greater problem than the changes in the color of the skin, but in others changes in skin color could indicate a deeper health problem. Contact a doctor if you experience any unusual, unexpected, or unexplained changes in the pigmentation of your skin.

Just like some ailments can cause changes in the skin, so can some treatments, such as certain antibiotics, antiarrhythmics, and antimalarial drugs, which can all cause hyperpigmentation.


Melasma, also sometimes called chloasma, is a common cause of hyperpigmentation in pregnant women that is caused by the changes in hormone levels associated with pregnancy. Melasma is characterized by the development of brown splotches on the skin, particularly in the facial area. For some women these spots fade after pregnancy, but for other the change in pigmentation is permanent. Men can also experience Melasma, though it is much less common for men than women. The condition can be treated with prescription creams or cosmetic treatments. Sun exposure can worsen this condition, so those who experience it should exercise extra caution to protect themselves from the sun.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease, a disorder characterized by underactivity of the adrenal gland, is a rare but possible cause of hyperpigmentation. This disease is a serious health condition that can lead to impaired kidney function and dangerously low blood pressure, but with treatment most people with Addison’s disease are able to live a normal life. Addison’s disease affects only 1 in 100,000 people, but can affect men or women of any age. One side effect of Addison’s disease is the development of dark splotches and freckles. These can appear anywhere on the body, including the gums, but are most common on places that get frequent sun exposure, like the face and hands.


Vitiligo is distinct from the other disorders discussed here in that it causes hypopigmentation, or the loss of pigmentation, rather than hyperpigmentation. Vitiligo causes white patches to appear across the body, including on the face, due to damage to the pigment producing cells. Vitiligo cannot be cured, but the spots can be treated with laser treatments and corticosteroid creams.

Correcting Pigmentation Changes

Changes in skin color can be frustrating and visually unappealing, even if they aren’t associated with a larger issue. Fortunately, a cosmetic surgeon skilled in cosmetic skin treatments can help to minimize or even eliminate the appearance of discoloration.

Dr. William J. Binder is located in Los Angeles, but is one of the world’s leading plastic surgeons. He has the skill and resources to not only evaluate and treat your pigmentation changes, but to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible. If you’re sick of living with skin discoloration, contact Dr. Binder’s office today to schedule your consultation.