Melasma vs Hyperpigmentation – Which Are You Struggling With?

We’ve all been there: you notice dark spots on your skin and instantly Google “DIY skin lightening at home.” But before you cover your face in a paste made from half the ingredients in your kitchen mixed together, there is one question you should get answered: “melasma vs hyperpigmentation – what is the difference?” 

The first step to treating your dark spots is to figure out what is causing them and what they are. Melasma and hyperpigmentation can appear very similar, but it is important to distinguish them in order to effectively treat your dark spots. 

What is Melasma?

Melasma is a condition in which dark spots, usually brown or gray-brown in color, appear on the face. It is caused by surges of hormones related to pregnancy or birth control. However, while 90% of people with melasma are women, it is possible for men to get it too. The underlying cause usually has to do with changes in hormones, but it can be exacerbated by excessive sun exposure. 

There are 3 different types of melasma: 

  • Epidermal: This type is characterized by dark patches with a well-defined border that are brown in color. With this type, the melanin pigment is mostly in the superficial layer of skin. Because of this, it is more responsive to treatment than other types.
  • Dermal: This type of melasma is diagnosable by the distinct patches that are usually light brown or bluish. Unlike epidermal melasma, these patches do not have a well-defined border. As the name suggests, the melanin pigment has penetrated deeper into the layers of the skin, meaning that it may be harder to treat. 
  • Mixed: This type of melasma is a mix of epidermal and dermal melasma. It is characterized as having both dark patches and light brown or bluish patches. This type is relatively responsive to treatment, though it varies on a case by case basis. 

What Causes Melasma and How Did I Get It?

The primary cause of melasma is changes to hormones due to pregnancy or birth control.

If you notice dark spots on your cheeks, chin, or forehead after recently starting the pill or becoming pregnant, that is the likely culprit. For most people who develop melasma during pregnancy or after changing their birth control, it will usually clear up on its own after the delivery.

Similarly, switching to a non-hormonal form of birth control can also help clear up your melasma. 

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    However, giving birth does not always cause melasma to clear up.

    If your melasma persists, you may want to see treatment. Don’t worry! This is often the case; many people, including celebrities, need to seek other treatments for their dark patches. In fact, Shay Mitchell recently opened up about being treated for melasma after giving birth to a baby girl in October. Like many other moms, her melasma was likely caused by hormones and then “activated” by sun exposure. 

    No matter the underlying cause, sun exposure is a major factor in exacerbating melasma. However, there are also other risk factors. It can have a genetic component, meaning you may have a predisposition for melasma.

    People with a darker skin tone are also more likely to develop melasma because their skin naturally has more active pigment-producing cells. 

    What is Hyperpigmentation and How is It Different From Melasma?

    Hyperpigmentation is a term that describes skin that appears darker, therefore it can occur in small patches, cover certain areas, and affect any part of the body. Melasma is actually a type of hyperpigmentation; however, it is still important to distinguish melasma vs hyperpigmentation in order to get the best treatment for your condition. 

    Other forms of hyperpigmentation include: 

    • Liver spots, also called “sunspots,” are a common form of hyperpigmentation that appear on the hands and face. While these are usually associated with aging, the underlying cause is excessive sun exposure over time. 
    • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is caused by injury to the skin, mostly acne or other types of inflammation that damage skin cells. 
    • Birthmarks and freckles are also a type of hyperpigmentation because they occur when melanin collects in certain areas of the skin. Of course, birthmarks are a type of hyperpigmentation that we are born with. Freckles are caused by sun exposure and are nothing to worry about unless they change color, have an irregular border, or develop asymmetry. 
    • Rosacea is another common condition that affects the face. However, unlike melasma, it resembles blushing and has a red appearance that may flare up then fade repeatedly over time.

    Hyperpigmentation is also a condition that can affect everyone, including celebrities. Even Rihanna herself has struggled with hyperpigmentation, which she attributes to her time in the sun in Barbados. 

    Like with melasma, sun exposure is the major culprit that causes spots to appear on the skin. Other causes of hyperpigmentation include aging, hormone changes, skin injuries, and inflammation. 

    Melasma vs Hyperpigmentation: How You Tell Them Apart

    You’re probably a little confused and wondering “what is the giveaway to tell me if I have melasma or another form of hyperpigmentation?” There are a couple tricks to determining melasma vs hyperpigmentation. 

    1. Location. The first thing you need to think about is: where are my dark spots? Because melasma only affects the face, if your dark spots are on other parts of the body, that is the tell that you have hyperpigmentation, not melasma. 
    1. Color. Another way to tell melasma and hyperpigmentation apart is the color. If your spots are red, like a blush, then it is likely not melasma. Dark spots from melasma are usually brownish in color, or sometimes a brownish-blue color. 
    1. Cause. If you are pregnant or taking a form of hormonal birth control, then it is much more likely that you have melasma as opposed to hyperpigmentation. However, if you have acne or have damaged your skin cells in another way, then the discoloration may be in response to inflammation. If this is the case, it is likely hyperpigmentation, not melasma. 
    1. Gender. Around 90% of people with melasma are women. Men can get melasma, especially if it runs in the family, but it is much more common in women. If you are a man and you begin to notice some skin discoloration on your chin, cheeks, or forehead, then it is statistically more likely that you have hyperpigmentation, not melasma.
    1. See a specialist. If you are unsure what is causing your skin discoloration, a specialist can help. A board-certified physician like Dr. Nadir Qazi would be able to diagnose your skin condition and recommend treatment options that work for you. Because Dr. Qazi is such an experienced physician, he would likely be able to diagnose you with melasma vs hyperpigmentation just by examining your skin. However, to be 100% certain, he may use a wood’s light to determine the pigment’s penetration into the skin or take a biopsy to examine under a microscope.

    If you have questions about melasma vs hyperpigmentation, schedule a consultation with Dr. Qazi today!

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      How To Care For Your Skin To Prevent Discoloration 

      If your mom has been bugging you about wearing sunscreen your whole life, you should listen to her. She’s right! Sun exposure is one of the leading causes behind skin discoloration and premature signs of aging.

      Since the sun causes hyperpigmentation and is the trigger for melasma, the best way to avoid developing either condition is by protecting yourself from the sun. This means wearing sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF, staying indoors during peak UV hours, and using a hat or umbrella to shield yourself from the sun when you are outdoors. 

      Another way to prevent hyperpigmentation is to avoid causing inflammation to your skin.

      This means that you shouldn’t pick at your acne or use skincare products that irritate your skin. Instead, it is recommended that you look for skin care products that contain kojic acid, licorice extract, or mushroom extract. These active ingredients can help you maintain the pigment of your skin by reducing the potential for dark spots. If you already have acne or damaged skin, then skin care products containing vitamin C can help heal the damage to your skin cells. 

      In order to prevent melasma specifically, switching to a non-hormonal form of birth control can help. Because melasma is usually caused by hormone fluctuations, reducing these fluctuations can prevent skin discoloration. 

      Treatments for Melasma and Hyperpigmentation at Qazi Cosmetic Clinic

      No matter whether you have melasma or hyperpigmentation, Dr. Qazi at Qazi Cosmetic Clinic can help! Once Dr. Qazi determines if you have melasma vs hyperpigmentation, he can recommend a customized treatment plan that matches your skin type and suits your needs. 

      When it comes to treating your skin discoloration, there is a lot of overlap between treatments for melasma and hyperpigmentation. However, melasma is harder to treat. Topicals that contain niacinamide, hydroquinone, and azelaic acid usually work very well on cases of hyperpigmentation; however, the success rates with melasma are not nearly as high.

      Melasma also varies greatly between people, so a treatment that works for one patient may do nothing for another. 

      In general, two treatments that work well for most melasma and hyperpigmentation cases are chemical peels and laser treatment

      At Qazi Cosmetic Clinic, Dr. Qazi specializes in non-surgical, minimally invasive treatments like chemical peels. Because we are a medspa, the peels we utilize to heal skin discoloration are more effective than peels that an esthetician could provide. Our peels give you smoother, brighter skin by penetrating deeply through the dermis to reach the unblemished skin underneath. 

      Another option that works especially well for melasma is Dr. Qazi’s customized laser blemish removal treatments.

      Not only can this unique laser treatment reduce acne, reverse sun damage, remove dark spots, and stop ingrown hairs, but it is also safe enough to be combined with other treatments. If topical treatments have not worked on your melasma, then Dr. Qazi can help! He is an expert at combining LED light therapy with radiofrequency microneedling or a medical grade chemical peel to give you the even, unblemished skin that you’re always wanted. 

      Frequently Asked Questions About Melasma vs Hyperpigmentation

      Are there any skin lightening products that I should avoid for my melasma or hyperpigmentation?

      Yes, it is recommended that you avoid using very harsh treatments on your skin. Some online sources suggest using liquid bleach to lighten your skin; however, this is not safe and can cause even further damage. 

      You should always consult a skin care expert before you seek out store-bought treatments. But, in general, you should always avoid any products that contain mercury. It can cause kidney damage, rashes, further skin discoloration, and even nerve damage. 

      What is a chemical peel treatment for melasma like? 

      When you come to Qazi Cosmetic Clinic for a chemical peel, Dr. Qazi will begin by applying a topical anesthetic to reduce discomfort during the procedure.

      Then, using a brush or cotton ball, he will apply a skin-safe chemical solution to your skin. Once the solution has had time to work, it will be neutralized and removed. This melasma treatment takes 30-45 minutes and is virtually painless. 

      After the treatment, you can expect to experience some flaking and redness for about 7 days. It will feel a little like a sunburn. After those 7 days, your skin will look new and healthy, with no more discoloration or dark spots!

      melasma vs hyperpigmentation before and after

      My hyperpigmentation makes me look older, are there treatments to reverse it? 

      Yes! Dr. Qazi offers a variety of anti-aging procedures to help you maintain beautiful skin and a youthful glow.

      In addition to treating melasma and hyperpigmentation, chemical peels and laser treatments are also highly effective at reducing wrinkles and reversing years of sun damage. If you want to rewind the clock on your face, Dr. Qazi also offers other safe, non-invasive anti-aging procedures like Botox and the PDO Thread Lift

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        Melasma vs Hyperpigmentation? Get Diagnosed and Treated By an Expert!

        If you have skin discoloration, don’t waste your time on DIY treatments. Talk to an expert! Schedule a consultation with Dr. Nadir Qazi to learn more about your treatment options. 

        Meet Dr. Nadir Qazi

        While growing up in Chicago, I struggled for years with severe acne and scarring. Dealing with constant comments about my skin, especially from friends and family, wasn’t easy. That feeling of isolation and defeat hit me hard. Many around me were in the same position, yet there were very limited solutions available. This led me to determine my mission: to tirelessly build a unique medical practice where compassion meets science, providing proper care for every overlooked skin type and tone. At my Center, my team and I offer only clinically proven treatments that I have personally researched. My goal is to help others achieve their dreams, breaking free from the constraints of their physical appearance, and to be the support I needed the most.

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