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Understanding Melanin: Natural Ways to Treat Pigmentation Disorders

September 27, 2019

Understanding Melanin:  Natural Ways to Treat Pigmentation Disorders

What Is Melanin?

Melanin is a protein that gives color to our hair, eyes, and skin. The amount of melanin in our skin is influenced mostly by sun exposure, but it’s also influenced by genetics. 

Have you ever seen a burn, scratch, or bug bite start to heal in a color much darker or lighter than your skin color? 

This is a result of the skin overproducing (or the opposite — not producing enough) melanocytes, the skin’s pigmentation cells, which provide the body with melanin.

Pigmentation disorders can come knocking at your door for a variety of reasons (skin trauma, hormones, disease). You may have heard of the two main types of pigmentation disorders:

  • Hyperpigmentation: Dark patches of skin as a result of the body producing more melanin.
  • Hypopigmentation: The loss of skin color (often appearing as white splotches) as a result of a decrease in melanin production.

Luckily, there are natural ways to treat and significantly improve most of these issues. However, some conditions are best treated by a dermatologist. Either way, it’s important to understand the body’s melanin production in order to treat and/or prevent pigmentation disorders naturally.

Types of Hyperpigmentation

There are three main types of hyperpigmentation:

  1. Age spots. These are brown, tan, or black spots that normally appear after years of sun exposure. They’re found mostly on areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun.
  2. Melasma. Also called “the mask of pregnancy,” melasma appears in the form of dark patches most commonly on the forehead or upper lip. Melasma is typically a result of hormonal changes from pregnancy or birth control.
  3. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This condition also manifests as darkened patches, typically after inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis or eczema.

Natural Hyperpigmentation Treatment

Expensive cosmetic procedures are not the only option for hyperpigmentation treatment. See the table below for a list of natural hyperpigmentation treatments, what they can do for your skin, and a recommended product with the appropriate ingredients. 

Hyperpigmentation Treatment:

What It Does

Recommended Product

Green Tea

Research shows it may have depigmenting effects.

Green Tea Brightening Eye Cream

Aloe Vera

Contains aloin -- a depigmenting compound.

Aloe Vera Gel

Vitamin C

Inhibits melanin production.

Vitamin C Rejuvenating Serum

Vitamin B3 (niacinamide)

Proven to brighten skin.

Antioxidant Transforming Night Cream

Vitamin A

Brightens and fights premature aging.

Brightening Foaming Cleanser

Other natural hyperpigmentation treatments include the following: 

  • Kojic acid — a mushroom-like fungi derivative that inhibits melanin production and is therefore used as a skin-brightener. 
  • Arbutin — a natural form of hydroquinone (a skin bleach which we do not recommend) derived from bearberry.
  • Undecylenoyl phenylalanine — an organic compound that’s been proven to lighten melasma lesions.
  • Licorice root — contains antioxidant and skin-whitening effects.

Types of Hypopigmentation

The most common types of hypopigmentation are:

  1. Albinism. This is an inherited disorder that disables the body from producing melanin. People with albinism usually have white skin and hair, and very pale eyes.
  2. Vitiligo. Thought to be an autoimmune disease, vitiligo appears in the form of smooth, white patches that can be found anywhere on the body.
  3. Post-injury or trauma. Skin trauma like blisters and burns can sometimes result in hypopigmentation.

Natural Hypopigmentation Treatment

There’s no known cure for albinism or vitiligo, and those with these disorders should seek treatment from a dermatologist. There are, however, a few natural hypopigmentation treatments that are thought to be effective.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) cites a trial showing that the herb ginkgo biloba may restore skin color for people with vitiligo. Other ingredients thought to be effective natural remedies include:

  • Turmeric
  • Papaya
  • Basil leaves
  • Walnuts 

Additionally, some research has shown that compounds from the planZingiber cassumunar (of the ginger family)can be used as an agent against hypopigmentation diseases.

Preventing Pigmentation Disorder

There’s no foolproof method of dodging pigmentation disorders, but there are a few ways you can try to regulate your melanin production and protect your skin from these issues. The first being (of course!):

  • Sunscreen. Make sure to apply sunscreen every day, especially for hyperpigmentation prevention. Those with albinism should also apply sunscreen regularly.
  • Antioxidant-rich foods and topical creams can help regulate melanin production.
  • Don’t pick at the skin. Anything that causes a cut in the skin can magnify the appearance of hyperpigmentation (and sometimes hypopigmentation as well).