Intimate Area Hyperpigmentation: A Common But Personal Concern

Hyperpigmentation or excessive darkening of the skin can appear on any part of the body. This occurs when melanin collects in the skin in higher than average amounts. Some types of hyperpigmentation, for example melasma, will present a specific appearance. On the other hand, other types of hyperpigmentation may be non-specific. One example is the hyperpigmentation of the intimate area. In fact, this is a very common condition for many people and there's nothing to be ashamed about.

There are many reasons that intimate areas may be prone to hyperpigmentation. Melanocytes are cells in the body that produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin, hair, and eyes its color. Melanocytes naturally are found in very high concentrations in the genital area and groin.

What Causes Hyperpigmentation of Intimate Areas?

The medical term “intertriginous” is used to describe a body area where two skin sections rub or come into contact together. The groin is such an area. As the skin sections rub against each other, irritation and inflammation can occur due to friction. The skin of the groin and genitals may be exposed to almost constant friction and irritation. Tight fitting clothing as well as the bands of undergarments can also add to this friction.

Resultant inflammation may be mild and seem like nothing more than an occasional nuisance. But if it continues over a long period of time, there may be long-term effects. The body's response to this form of irritation over time is to recruit cells such as the melanocytes to the affected area. This will lead to increased pigmentation.

Lack of ventilation – whether due to clothing or natural anatomy – contributes to local irritation and may worsen the cycle of inflammatory response, melanin production, and increased pigmentation. Additionally, lack of ventilation can allow bacteria and fungus to flourish, activating more melanocytes in the affected area and causing an inflammatory response.

Age and hormones are other factors that contribute to intimate area hyperpigmentation. Hormones regulate innumerable functions in our body. At puberty, levels of certain hormones increase. In response to hormonal changes, the intimate areas start to darken at puberty and may continue darkening with age.

A boost in testosterone (male sex hormone) during and after puberty can darken the penis and nipples. And estrogen (female sex hormone) surge during puberty and subsequent surges in pregnancy can darken the labia and areolae. Birth control pills or other hormonal treatments can augment these effects.

How is Hyperpigmentation of Intimate Areas Identified or Diagnosed?

There is no test to diagnose hyperpigmentation of the intimate area. It is identified by visual assessment only. Your doctor may ask questions about when the darkening began and your medical history in general in order to be sure there are no underlying medical conditions that are occasionally related to hyperpigmentation.

Should I Be Concerned about Hyperpigmentation in Intimate Areas?

Hyperpigmention of intimate areas is very common; in fact almost everyone is affected. You need to know that this condition should not be a source of shame or anxiety.

Some diseases can increase the incidence of or degree of hyperpigmentation in intimate areas. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Addison’s disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hemochromatosis (excess iron in blood)

Hyperpigmentation of Intimate Areas in Brief

Darkening of the skin of the intimate area is very common and nothing to be ashamed of. The genitals have an increased number of melanocytes, the cells that produce the skin pigment melanin. Hormones and factors such as friction can contribute to skin darkening.

Intimate Area Pigmentation Fast Fact

Diffuse darkening in the genital area is common, as are other benign pigmented lesions, like moles and birth marks. Even though genital skin is usually not exposed to the sun, skin cancers can form there, so unusual or changing dark skin marks should be evaluated by a doctor.

Did You Know?

Hyperpigmentation is seen equally in men and women. However, women are more likely to seek consultation.