Melasma and hyperpigmentation are two fairly common skin conditions. Both deal with dark spots appearing on your skin, and both are roadblocks to clear skin for many. They may look similar, but the causes of each condition differ, as do their treatments to some degree. So it’s important to make sure you know which you have before starting treatment. Read this article to learn about the different potential causes of your dark spots.
When inspecting your dark spots, you might wonder whether you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation or melasma specifically. And you’d be forgiven for getting the two mixed up, as they’re visibly very similar. In fact, the greatest difference between the two is that melasma is specifically caused by a hormonal imbalance. This condition is most prevalent in pregnant women, so melasma is sometimes referred to as the “mask of pregnancy” for this reason.
The reason for the “mask” in the “mask of pregnancy” is that melasma almost always appears on your face. Not to be confused with freckles, birthmarks, or other pigmentations, melasma usually appears in dark patches. It can show up anywhere on your face. Melasma does not cause physical pain, although it can lead to significant social discomfort and a lack of general confidence. If you’re struggling with melasma, you may also be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety.
Unfortunately, melasma can be difficult to treat, but it’s not impossible. Everyone’s hormone levels have their own unique balance. The dark spots on your skin may not go away until your individual hormone balance is restored, and even then they might linger. You may need a melasma treatment that’s tailored to your respective needs.
Most treatments include a topical cream with active ingredients such as tretinoin, hydroquinone, or azelaic acid. It might take a long time, but regular use often shows signs of improvement as dark spots fade. Some women also seek medical procedures such as laser treatment or chemical peels. It’s worth seeking treatment if you want clear, glowing skin again, but remember to talk with a professional about your options.
Hyperpigmentation is a catch-all term used to describe various skin conditions involving discoloration, melasma being one of them. Usually, these skin conditions involve a certain patch of skin becoming noticeably darker than the surrounding area. Even a tattoo is technically a form of hyperpigmentation. There are various causes of hyperpigmentation, such as acne scarring, inflammation resulting from health complications, and side effects from medications.
Usually, however, hyperpigmentation is simply a result of increased melanin production brought on by sun exposure. Certain skin cells produce increased levels of melanin when exposed to sunlight. Melanin is a pigment that, when produced unevenly, results in freckles. Skin cells in more fair-skinned people tend to be more susceptible to this kind of production, so freckle tendency is often genetic.
Most hyperpigmentation is harmless, but there are signs to watch out for. Some spots can become cancerous over time, such as moles with damaged DNA. If you notice a freckle or mole is irregularly shaped and bigger than a pencil eraser, consult your doctor. Make sure to keep an eye on particularly resistant areas of hyperpigmentation on your body.
Many treatments for hyperpigmentation come in the form of topical creams that include skin-positive vitamins such as C and E. Many over-the-counter treatments exist, but you can also have a heavier-duty medication prescribed by your doctor. There are also some medical procedures such as microdermabrasion, intense pulse light therapy, or laser peels. Consult your doctor to find what option would work best for your skin.
Preventative and Ongoing Skincare
While there are treatments for hyperpigmentation and melasma, preventative care goes a long way in reducing the likelihood of seeing these dark spots. Preventative care is important for making sure your skin doesn’t damage too badly as you age. The UV rays from consistent sun exposure can increase hyperpigmentation over time. Use a daily sunscreen, with at least 30 SPF. It’s recommended to apply every two hours.
It’s also important to wear clothing that protects you from the sun, such as long sleeves or a hat. Adding a moisturizer to your skincare routine can also help your skin stay healthy. Hydrate throughout the day — by moisturizing and drinking water — to help your skin cells do their job as best they can.
Likewise, make sure you’re maintaining a healthy diet for your skin. Note that many treatments for general hyperpigmentation use aforementioned creams that contain vitamin C and E. Avocados are rich in both, sweet potatoes have plenty of A, and citrus fruits are full of C. Fatty fish like salmon have plenty of omega-3, which promotes strong, supple, UV-resistant skin. Focus on incorporating more of these foods to benefit your skin.
Getting your beauty sleep is another way to maintain healthy skin before developing hyperpigmentation. During sleep, your body focuses on healing itself, both inside and out. In regards to your skin, your body will repair still-healthy cells and shed the damaged ones. Prioritize getting a full eight hours of sleep. If you struggle with winding down, turn off electronics an hour before bed. Without distractions, your mind can more easily drift off into healing slumber.
Give It Time
Where hyperpigmentation is a catch-all term for many conditions, melasma is specifically caused by a hormonal imbalance. Melasma is a kind of hyperpigmentation that can be difficult to treat, and often requires custom medicine. Both, however, may also resolve on their own without treatment or by living a healthy lifestyle.
Using a daily SPF moisturizer, eating skin-positive foods, and getting quality sleep will keep your skin healthy over time. Remember to be patient. With time, hopefully, you’ll develop a healthy relationship with your skin — spots and all.