Hyperpigmentation vs Melasma - How to Tell the Difference

If you have dark spots on your skin, it can be difficult to tell if it is hyperpigmentation or melasma. Both are very common and can look very similar. Hyperpigmentation can affect all skin types and ages, and often pops up when you least expect it, knocking your skin confidence as it appears.

Keep reading to find out how you can tell the difference between hyperpigmentation and melasma.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that describes the appearance of darker patches of skin caused by an excess in melanin production. It can occur all over the body, like places that frequently see the sun (face and hands) or can form after an injury has taken place (cuts, burns or acne). Hyperpigmentation can be caused by a number of factors and there are different types of hyperpigmentation.

Kinds of Hyperpigmentation

  1. Primary pigmentary conditions

    Primary hyperpigmentation refers to a number of pigmentation conditions that affect melanin in your skin. Melanin is what gives your skin colour and there are several conditions that can alter the production of melanin in your body. It may be caused by hormone changes, environmental factors, or can be genetic. Dermnet has a handy guide on pigmentation disorders.  

  2. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

    Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation usually occurs after a person has had inflammation or an injury to the skin resulting in spots or patches of darkened skin such as acne or eczema.

  3. Hyperpigmentation from the sun

    Sun exposure is a common trigger for hyperpigmentation forming on areas that frequently see the sun, like the hands and face. UV rays from the sun cause damage which can manifest in many ways, from harmless freckles to more severe conditions like skin cancer.

Causes of Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation can be brought on by a number of factors; from hormonal changes such as with Melasma, by the sun such as sun spots or liver spots, or by inflammation from certain medicines or after injury.

  • Hormonal changes in the body like in pregnancy or when using birth control can cause melasma.
  • UV rays from the sun can cause hyperpigmentation like sun spots and liver spots. Protecting yourself from the sun is one of the main things you can do to prevent hyperpigmentation.
  • Inflammation from certain medicines or after an injury like acne, cuts or burns.

What is Melasma?

Melasma is a form of Hyperpigmentation. Melasma is characterised by tan or brown patches on the face and most commonly appears on the cheeks, bridge of nose, forehead, and upper lips. Melasma can sometimes be found in other parts of the body, typically those prone to more sun exposure, such as the shoulders, but is mainly present on the face.

Causes of Melasma

There are a number of factors that may contribute to causing melasma. 

  • Hormones - namely an increase in estrogen can contribute to melasma.
  • Birth control or pregnancy -  between 50 and 70 percent of people will develop some form of melasma during pregnancy.
  • Sunlight is a trigger as any skin exposed to the sun can cause melasma. This can also cause those dark spots to darken further due to the damage of UV rays.
  • Medication - certain types of medication like phototoxic drugs can contribute to melasma as it makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Hyperpigmentation vs Melasma - how to spot the difference

Was there inflammation?

Hyperpigmentation can happen from a rash, reaction or other forms of inflammation such as from scarring or medication. Areas of the skin can darken where inflammation or injury was caused like a burn on your arm or acne scarring from a break out.

Is the pigmentation symmetric?

Melasma tends to be symmetric in shape, while pigmentation can be in select areas or found in uneven formations on the skin.

Where is the pigmentation located?

Common locations for Melasma are the cheeks, the upper lip, the chin and the forehead. Melasma is also known as the “mask” of pregnancy. Other forms of hyperpigmentation may be present anywhere on the face, or in spots on the hands, neck or top of the head. 

Does it worsen in summer?

Melasma is sensitive to sunlight, so it often appears darker in summer and lighter over winter. Sun exposure can worsen these dark spots as UV rays can cause more damage to exposed skin if unprotected.

Does the area itch or burn?

Melasma shouldn’t itch or burn, or feel irritated in any way. If your hyperpigmentation itches or causes discomfort, you may need to see a dermatologist as it could be an underlying health issue. 

How to treat hyperpigmentation including melasma

There are a number of ways to treat hyperpigmentation including Melasma, from topical skincare products like acids and retinoids to more advanced treatments.

Murad Multi-Acid Replenishing Peel

Some of our favourite products for treating the appearance of hyperpigmentation and melasma are:

  • Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel - is a great exfoliant for removing dull surface cells to smooth and improve skin texture, brightness and clarity over time. When you exfoliate your skin with the help of acids, new skin cells emerge to take the place of the old ones. The process helps even out your skin tone and make it smoother overall.
  • Murad Rapid Age Spot Correcting Serum - this serum reduces the appearance of dark spots, age spots and hyperpigmentation. It contains vitamin C which is known for its brightening properties.
  • Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum - retinol can have a number of positive effects on the skin, as it encourages skin cell turnover. It can help reduce the appearance of sun-induced dark spots as well as increase the production of collagen and elastin in the skin for a more youthful, even complexion.

Fractional CO2 Laser

Fractional Co2 Laser is one of our most advanced skin treatments and is popular for treating pigmentary concerns. This treatment uses a fractional carbon dioxide laser to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, promote a smoother skin texture, tighten the skin and reduce pigmentation. The laser triggers your body’s natural healing response for fresh, healthy, smooth skin. It also boosts collagen so skin looks bouncy and fresh.

Photo Rejuvenation

Photo Rejuvenation is another excellent treatment as it works to target the signs of premature ageing, pigmentation, age and sunspots on the face, chest and hands. It also is great for reducing redness, treating broken capillaries, red veins and minor vascular issues. It stimulates collagen production too! 

This pulsed light treatment generates heat and stimulates an inflammatory response in the skin triggering a healing process that results in a reduction of pigment and red blood vessels. Once the pigment has been targeted, it comes to the surface of the skin, which then flakes away.

For more treatment options, check out our comprehensive guide on the top 10 treatments for pigmentation and melasma).

Finding the right treatment for Hyperpigmentation At Caci

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition and concern and can affect all skin types and ages. Luckily, there are many effective treatments to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

At Caci, we work with you to get the best result so you feel confident in your skin. We have a number of options when it comes to skin health and our Reformaskin Skin Health Membership plan is a great way to kick start your skin health goals. Our experts will help access your skin and discuss the best options.

Book a free consultation today to get personalised advice - no strings attached! Treat your skin right with personalised treatment plans at Caci.