Busting hyper-pigmentation myths, expert warns against ineffective lemon juice treatment

One of the most common skincare concerns in South Africa is hyper-pigmentation, also known as "dark marks" or "uneven skin tone. Picture: Womanizer Toys/ Unsplash

One of the most common skincare concerns in South Africa is hyper-pigmentation, also known as "dark marks" or "uneven skin tone. Picture: Womanizer Toys/ Unsplash

Published Oct 10, 2023


One of the most common skincare concerns in South Africa is hyper-pigmentation, also known as ‘’dark marks’’ or ‘’uneven skin tone’’.

This condition occurs when pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes are triggered to produce more melanin, the natural pigment in our bodies. When excess melanin is produced, it leads to darker spots on the skin, such as melasma, freckles or age spots.

What causes melanocytes to produce more melanin? According to Dr Bradley Wagemaker, Medical Director at Lamelle Research Laboratories, sun exposure is a major factor.

That is why hyper-pigmentation is a widespread concern in South Africa, where sunlight is abundant.

Melanin acts as a natural shield against the sun. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, it stimulates the production of melanin, resulting in a tan.

However, the sun is not the only cause of hyper-pigmentation. Hormonal fluctuations, skin trauma, acne, and certain medications can also contribute to this condition.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat existing hyper-pigmentation, said Dr Wagemaker. There are various skincare products and professional treatments available specifically designed for this purpose.

However, it is important to be cautious of misleading information found online. False claims and ineffective remedies can lead people astray.

To effectively address hyper-pigmentation, it is recommended to consult with a skincare professional or dermatologist who can provide accurate information and personalised treatment options.

They will assess your specific skin concerns and recommend suitable products and treatments. Keep in mind that treating hyper-pigmentation takes time and consistency, so it's important to be patient and follow the prescribed regimen diligently.

Dr Wagemaker busts five of the most common hyper-pigmentation myths:

Myth: Lemon juice is an effective treatment for hyper-pigmentation.

Fact: This is one of the oldest myths around hyper-pigmentation. Lemon juice will not reduce or remove hyper-pigmentation.

Because of its acidity, it may have a negative effect on the skin’s pH level, making it even more vulnerable to the sun and development of hyper-pigmentation as well as causing irritation.

Myth: Only darker skin tones are affected by hyper-pigmentation.

Fact: Darker skin tones are more prone to developing hyper-pigmentation since they already have a higher melanin concentration than lighter skin tones.

But regardless of your skin tone, you should use caution when spending time in the sun because hyper-pigmentation is a risk for all skin tones.

Myth: Only older people are affected by hyper-pigmentation.

Fact: Many of us now view hyper-pigmentation as a sign of ageing and frequently refer to sun spots as “age spots“.

This is not entirely untrue, as hyper-pigmentation does increase in frequency as skin ages, but it is not a condition that just affects people with aged skin.

Hyper-pigmentation affects people as young as their early twenties, and it is frequently brought on by the use of oral contraceptives, stress from the environment, or acne (which can result in the development of post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation).

Myth: Once hyper-pigmentation is treated, it won’t occur again.

Fact: Sadly, this is not the case. Treating hyper-pigmentation may be a long process, and even once treatment is completed, you may experience the development of new dark marks as time goes by.

“This is because UV exposure, the ageing process and hormonal fluctuations will continue to affect the skin throughout one’s lifetime,” said Dr Wagemaker.

Myth: Scrubbing your skin will get rid of hyper-pigmentation.

Fact: All skincare regimens should include gentle exfoliation since it removes dry and dead skin cells from the skin's surface.

However, no amount of scrubbing will be able to remove hyper-pigmentation because it results from an increase in melanin production by cells deep within the skin.

In actuality, excessive scrubbing or exfoliation can harm skin, causing itchiness, redness, sensitivity and even breakouts.

How to treat hyper-pigmentation?

“Because hyper-pigmentation may be caused by many different factors, including sun exposure, hormonal fluctuations, medication and more, it is important to determine the root cause before embarking on a treatment journey.

“Speak to your skincare therapist, dermatologist or medical practitioner about your concerns – they’ll be able to recommend a treatment programme and skincare regime suited to your individual needs.”