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Melasma vs. Hyperpigmentation: Treatments and Symptoms

Chances are, you’re here to find a melasma treatment, but before we get to that, we’ve got a few bases to cover — namely, the differences between melasma and regular old hyperpigmentation. First things first: Hyperpigmentation is a broad term that refers to a skin condition in which the skin is discolored or darkened due to an array of factors, including sun damage, acne scarring, and inflammation lingering from an eczema flare-up. So what is melasma? Well, it’s a form of the condition that’s more common in women and is usually most prevalent on the face in areas like the forehead, chin, and above the lip.

Melasma affects an estimated five million Americans — most of whom are women — and is sometimes referred to as “the mask of pregnancy,” as it frequently appears during pregnancy due to the vast hormonal changes. Much like general hyperpigmentation on the face though, melasma appears in the form of discoloration and is exacerbated by exposure to the sun. Thus, this begs the question: How can you tell if you actually have melasma?

To find out, Allure tapped four trusted dermatologists, who detailed how to distinguish melasma vs. hyperpigmentation. Learn everything you need to know, ahead.

Hyperpigmentation can refer to any darkening of the skin.

Post-blemish scarring from a stubborn breakout, freckles that expanded into full-blown sun spots from excess exposure, or discoloration caused by a condition like eczema or psoriasis usually all fall under the umbrella of hyperpigmentation.

This is because acne, sunlight, skin rashes, and the like have the potential to stimulate melanocytes, the pigment-making cells in the skin, to make a surplus of pigment, “causing them to dump their pigment into lower levels of the skin, like tattoo pigment, where it doesn’t belong,” explains Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, D.C.

The deeper the pigment, the tougher it is to treat. Put it this way: A section of skin that’s been consistently exposed to harmful UV rays without the proper protection will be harder to heal or treat than say, a dark spot leftover from a pimple that you’ve been careful to shield from the sun. In other words, the level of severity varies, but if you spot discoloration on your skin that wasn’t there before, it’s safe to assume it’s hyperpigmentation. But always consult your doctor to be sure, of course.

What is melasma?

Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation that’s more commonly seen in women (especially in those with darker skin tones) and is thought to be triggered by UV exposure, as well as hormonal influences. The latter is what differentiates it from traditional hyperpigmentation and makes it tougher to treat.

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