Melasma or Sun Damage?

Melasma or Sun Damage? | Spectrum Dermatology

Melasma or Sun Damage?

There are many types of hyperpigmentation, which is a term that means a skin darkening or discoloration. At Spectrum Dermatology, all types of hyperpigmentation are treated including the most stubborn kind, melasma. Hyperpigmentation can be caused or triggered by a number of factors, from the sun to acne or even hormone fluctuations. Melasma can happen to men or women, but is much more common in women—particularly those with darker skin and/or oily skin. Melasma is a unique type of hyperpigmentation because it happens when the cells that create pigment become overactive.

Melasma is often kick-started by hormones fluctuations, which is why it is especially prevalent in pregnant women. It has earned the nickname “the mask of pregnancy” because it often presents as a gray-colored “mask” in pregnant women. However, melasma can be just about any color, from gray to tan and brown. Melasma usually looks different than other types of hyperpigmentation, but only a dermatologist has the training to determine among the thousands of skin conditions.

The Look of Melasma

Melasma is typically either a “mask” or presents as blotches on the skin. Sometimes these blotches are called “islands,” because they are larger than other types of hyperpigmentation such as sun damage. Melasma tends to be symmetrical when it appears on the face, but it can also happen just about anywhere else on the body. You will most often find it on the cheeks, lateral sides of the face, or the upper lip.

Melasma can get darker when exposed to the sun, heat, or with inflammation and hormone fluctuations. It can also be aggravated with HEV, or blue light, which is commonly emitted from electronics. Most people are exposed to HEV throughout the day, and wearing sunscreen even while you’re indoors can be a great way to counteract the HEV exposure if you struggle with melasma. Plus, getting into the routine of wearing sunscreen at all times can only benefit your skin, particularly if it is a medical-grade sunscreen.

Sun Damage vs. Melasma

It can be easy for non-professionals to confuse melasma with sun damage (especially since the sun can make melasma worse). However, sun damage is caused strictly by the UV rays and not hormone fluctuations. Sun damage kick-starts melanin production, which leads to an overproduction of pigment to help safeguard your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Sun damage isn’t instantaneous, but rather reveals itself over time.

The first sign of sun damage is pink or red skin, followed by a sunburn, and then a tan. It can actually take years or even decades for the full effects of sun damage to show up. This is why sun spots are also sometimes called age spots. Most sun damage that you see on your skin today is very old, which is why even people who have been diligent about sunscreen for years will find “new” sun spots. Anyone can experience sun damage, even those with darker skin tones. More natural melanin can help keep your skin somewhat protected from sun damage, but not entirely.

You can remove sunspots with a variety of treatments, such as lasers and chemical peels. Melasma is more difficult to treat. Melasma is prevalent in the deeper layer of the skin, making it a more complicated type of hyperpigmentation. There are some prescription topical products that might work, such as hydroquinone creams. In some cases, laser and energy-based devices can help, and Spectrum Dermatology offers all of the most effective tools for melasma. Microneedling can also be helpful.

More on Melasma Treatment

Some chemical peels can be effective in quickening the exfoliation of skin to lighten melasma. Kojic acid and other customized ingredients can help with skin brightening. Medium-depth peels are often recommended for melasma while ensuring little downtime. Fractional non-ablative lasers are also a great tool for breaking up melasma without also stimulating melanocytes. These treatments also stimulate collagen growth, which can help skin look younger, healthier, and more supple.

Not every laser or light treatment is a good match for melasma. Some can actually further stimulate the melanocytes, such as IPL, and make melasma worse. Only trust a dermatologist to treat melasma because these are the medical professionals who know which tools and products are most effective for this stubborn type of hyperpigmentation.

If you have melasma or any kind of hyperpigmentation, help is available. Contact Spectrum Dermatology today for your consultation. Complete the online form now or call the office.