08 Apr Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma
What’s the difference between hyperpigmentation and melasma? It’s a common question at Spectrum Dermatology, and technically melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is the term for any type of skin darkening and can be caused by a number of things. Brown spots are the most common type of hyperpigmentation, and are also known as age spots or sun spots. You can get hyperpigmentation from acne scarring, sun damage, or inflammation caused by eczema.
However, melasma is a different type of hyperpigmentation. This is a pigment condition, and even though a lot of people haven’t heard of it until they or someone they know is diagnosed, it actually affects over five million people in the US. Most melasma patients are women. Melasma looks different because it’s much larger than a “spot” and it’s exacerbated by sunlight (which isn’t the case with other forms of hyperpigmentation).
Treating Melasma and Hyperpigmentation
Treating common hyperpigmentation and melasma requires very different approaches, which is why it’s important to have a correct diagnosis. Common hyperpigmentation happens when melanocytes in the skin are stimulated (whether from sun exposure, acne, or something else). Melanocytes are the cells responsible for synthesizing the skin’s pigment, and skin damage can cause an excess of pigment at the trauma site to be created. This pigment is kind of like a tattoo in that it’s located in the deeper layers of the skin, meaning that it won’t “come off” when the top layers of skin naturally shed. Common hyperpigmentation can occur at various levels, which explains why serious damage from UV rays (which penetrates deeper in the skin) causes darker hyperpigmentation than a lingering whitehead scar.
Melasma is often caused by hormonal factors, which is why more women have it than men. When hormones play a role in hyperpigmentation, it’s tougher to treat. Pregnant women are especially prone to melasma, which is how it earned its nickname “the mask of pregnancy.” Typically, women with darker skin are more likely to get melasma, as are women who take hormone therapy or hormone-based birth control. There’s no cure for melasma, but with a dermatologist you can help stop it from getting worse, identify the cause, and treat the symptoms. Melasma usually goes away on its own, although sometimes not for several months.
What Kind of Hyperpigmentation Do You Have?
Common hyperpigmentation often presents as brown spots varying in darkness and severity, but sometimes you can have so many that it looks more like a patch—similar to melasma. However, melasma is different because the patches are usually symmetric. Melasma also is most commonly found on the face, whereas common hyperpigmentation can occur anywhere (most often on the hands, chest, and face). Melasma can also appear on other parts of the body, but that is less common. Most melasma patients find that the condition is worse in the summer, which makes sense as UV rays exacerbate the condition.
Treating Your Hyperpigmentation
Common hyperpigmentation can be treated with a number of options at your dermatologist, such as laser skin rejuvenation. Melasma is tougher to treat, but symptoms can be lightened with certain laser therapies. Using makeup with iron oxide can help melasma patients with the symptoms because it helps block out visible light. Finding the right treatment for your type of hyperpigmentation requires working with a dermatologist because there’s no single solution for all patients. Lasers are the primary treatment for all types of hyperpigmentation, but treating melasma requires a lower energy laser and fractionated technology.
Multiple laser treatments are often recommended to treat any kind of hyperpigmentation, with a minimum of three being the most common. Routine maintenance sessions every six months can help sustain and optimize results from a laser treatment. However, treating melasma will depend on the severity of the condition. Taking care of your skin and protecting it on a daily basis is just as important as finding the right laser treatment for you. Whether you have common hyperpigmentation or melasma, UV rays are likely responsible of causing or worsening your hyperpigmentation. Even melasma that’s caused by a hormonal factor can get worse without sun protection. Using a broadband sunscreen recommended by your doctor with a minimum 30 SPF and reapplying liberally every 75 minutes can do wonders.
If you have any type of hyperpigmentation and want to regain skin that’s youthful, clear, and beautiful, treatments are available. Call Spectrum Dermatology at (480) 948-8400 to schedule your consultation or appointment.