Intimate Area Hyperpigmentation: A Common But Personal Concern

Hyperpigmentation or excessive darkening of the skin can appear on any part of the body. It occurs when melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its natural color, collects in the skin in higher than normal amounts. Some forms of hyperpigmentation, such as melasma, have a specific appearance and classification. Other forms of hyperpigmentation are non-specific and may be described based on the area affected. Hyperpigmentation of the intimate area is one example. It is a very common condition and nothing to be ashamed of.

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 to describe a body area where two sections of skin touch or rub together is “intertriginous”. The groin is such an area. As the skin rubs together, there may be friction that produces irritation and inflammation. The bands of undergarments and tight fitting clothing can also add to friction.

The skin of the groin and genitals may be exposed to almost constant friction and irritation. Resultant inflammation may be mild and seem like nothing more than an occasional nuisance. But if it continuous over a long period of time, there may be long-term effects. The body responds to this persistent irritation by recruiting cells, including the melanocytes, to the affected area, leading 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. These microbes can generate by-products that cause an inflammatory response and further activate melanocytes in the area.

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 common; almost everyone is affected. It 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.