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Hyperpigmentation and Melasma

Definition, difference, and how to decrease the effects By Kristin Carlson, Medical Esthetician

Sunspots, age spots, liver spots, ruddy complexion, pregnancy mask; all are terms used to describe any darkening of the skin. It can appear on any part of the body but is most common on the face and hands. Hyperpigmentation and melasma are two conditions with this characterization. They are similar in look yet can be caused by different conditions, one even being a symptom of the other. Let’s break them down and learn the ways to decrease and even eliminate their effects.

Hyperpigmentation is when the body is triggered to produce more melanin, thus causing the skin pigment to darken. It can be caused by prolonged sun exposure, skin injuries, acne scars, inflammation and some skin-care products or medications. Darker skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation. It is harmless, yet annoying to most people, even causing insecurities about one's appearance. Some aesthetic treatments—chemical peels, laser treatments, microneedling and even some facials—can lead to hyperpigmentation if the skin is not properly accessed. Your skin-care provider will talk to you about your skin type and ethnic background to determine what treatments are right for you.

This leads us to melasma. More commonly called the pregnancy mask, it is defined as brown patches, larger than those caused by sun damage, typically on the cheeks, forehead, nose, upper lip and chin. It is believed to be caused by hormonal changes and sun exposure. It is more common in women and appears for many during pregnancy and when starting a new form of birth control. Hyperpigmentation is a symptom of melasma. Melasma is a frustrating condition as its causes are difficult to determine and avoid.

Hyperpigmentation and melasma can be treated, but it will require some patience. Although some skin-care treatments pose a risk for hyperpigmentation, if used properly, many of the same treatments will lighten pigment over time. For example, a series of chemical peels, microneedling with platelet-rich plasma or laser treatments, along with a good home-care regimen and limited sun exposure, can do wonders for lightening discolorations.

Incorporating a lightening agent into your routine will make a drastic difference! Some lightening agents include hydroquinone, kojic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, and bearberry extract.

Melasma often fades after pregnancy or when a woman switches her birth control method. The same type of treatments and lightening agents used to treat hyperpigmentation will also help with melasma. Make sure you discuss any course of treatment with your health-care provider if you are nursing or become pregnant.

Minimizing your sun exposure and wearing a proper SPF daily is your best bet for avoiding many skin conditions. Talk to your skin-care provider about how to avoid, minimize and treat your skin discoloration, and remember to disclose all medications, previous medical history and ethnic background when discussing any type of skin-lightening treatment.

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