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Melasma VS Hyperpigmentation: Spotting The Difference

Melasma VS hyperpigmentation spotting the diffrence

When in school you learned that reptiles and mammals are types of animals, but not every animal is a reptile or mammal. Why are we discussing animals here?

This is the best way to describe melasma and hyperpigmentation. In this case, melasma is hyperpigmentation but all hyperpigmentation is not melasma.

The reason you are here is to clear up confusion about hyperpigmentation and melasma. These two skin conditions are related to each other yet so different. Don’t worry this blog will help you spot the difference between melasma vs hyperpigmentation. 

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Before knowing the difference between hyperpigmentation vs melasma it is important to understand these skin conditions. Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that causes dark patches on the skin. 

In this condition, some areas of the skin become darker than the usual skin color. This darkening is caused due to the increase in melanin. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for the pigment in the skin.

When for whatever reason these melanocytes are stimulated, they start producing excess melanin or pigmentation. When this excess melanin reaches the lower levels of skin it causes discoloration and dark skin spots.

Hyperpigmentation affects people with darker skin color more–people of African descent, Hispanics, Asians, people from the Middle East, and Native Americans.

What Causes Hyperpigmentation

As we have discussed before hyperpigmentation is caused due to overproduction of melanin in the skin. But what causes this stimulation of cells? Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Sun damage

This is the most common cause of hyperpigmentation. The UV rays of the sun can damage the skin leading to discoloration of skin. This is also known as sun spots.

  • Post Inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation caused by any inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, or even an insect bite. Inflammation can break the cells which leads to leakage of pigmentation on the skin.

  • Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes are the reason why women are more at risk of developing hyperpigmentation. Hormonal changes in the body caused by pregnancy, menopause, and the use of oral contraceptives can lead to dark skin spots.

  • Medications

There are certain medications like anticancer drugs that trigger the skin cells to start producing more melanin and lead to hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation Symptoms

The only symptom that hyperpigmentation causes is dark spots or discoloration of the skin. The patches caused by hyperpigmentation are usually brown, red, pink, gray, or black depending on your skin color. If you experience any other symptoms such as itching or pain then it is best to consult the doctor. There are chances you may be experiencing any other skin condition or health issue.

What Is Melasma?

There are different types of skin pigmentation disorders, and melasma is one of them. Yes, it is a type of hyperpigmentation. It causes patches on skin that are darker than the surrounding skin. 

Melasma can appear anywhere on the body but it is more common in areas that are directly exposed to the sunlight such as the face, arms, and neck. Melasma is also believed to be caused by overproduction of melanin by melanocytes. 

Melasma is also known as “mask” or “pregnancy mask” because it affects the face more than any other body part especially the

  • Cheeks
  • Chin
  • Upper lips
  • Forehead
  • Nose 

Melasma Causes

Melasma is also caused due to excess melanin in the skin or epidermis. Some of the common reasons that trigger melanocytes to produce more melanin are:

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes
  • Sun exposure
  • Thyroid disease
  • Medications
  • Infrared radiation
  • Pregnancy 
  • Skincare products

Pregnancy is one of the most common causes of melasma in women. It mostly appears on the face which is why it’s known as a pregnancy mask. It is caused by the hormonal changes that women experience during pregnancy. 

Sometimes melasma appears during pregnancy and disappears once the baby is born but in some cases, it lingers.

Melasma Symptoms

The skin patches caused by melasma are usually brown or gray in color. Just like hyperpigmentation, melasma also causes discoloration or skin darkening. Sometimes you may experience inflammation as well. Other than that no other symptoms are associated with melasma.

Are Melasma And Hyperpigmentation The Same?

There are different types of hyperpigmentation such as sun spots, freckles, acne scars, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), age spots, and melasma is one of them. Hyperpigmentation usually causes discoloration of skin and leads to skin patches that are darker than the surrounding skin. 

Hyperpigmentation is a broader term that describes dark patches of skin. While melasma is a more specific type of hyperpigmentation and is different from other types of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation and melanin are caused by an increase in the production of melanin in the epidermis. Both conditions may share a similar cause and might look similar yet they are different from each other. Let’s discover some differences between melasma vs hyperpigmentation.

Difference Between Melasma vs Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation Melasma
Location It can appear anywhere on the body including the legs, arms, back, and face, It mostly appears on the face, cheeks, nose, forehead, and upper lips.
Appearance It can appear in different forms, such as spots, streaks, or patches.  It mostly appears in symmetrical patches.
Cause  It can be caused by sun exposure, inflammation, genetics, scars, and injuries. The primary cause of melasma is hormonal changes in the body and is worsened by sun exposure.

Treatment Options

Even though melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation, the treatment for it is different. Melasma is harder to treat than other types of hyperpigmentation. The best way to manage hyperpigmentation and melasma and prevent them from getting worse is by taking proper care of the skin. This can be done by:

  • Avoiding direct sun exposure by using sunscreen and covering your face and body.
  • Avoid treating the conditions on your own as certain products can make the condition worse.
  • Keep your skin moisturized with a hypoallergenic moisturizing cream that is free from fragrance, paraben, and sulfate. So it does not further irritate the skin.
  • Use a sunscreen with SPF of 30 or above, or consult your dermatologist to know which SPF will be best for you.
  • Stop the use of any medication such as contraceptive pills that might be causing the dark patches on skin–consult your physician first.

How To Get Rid Of Hyperpigmentation

If you are experiencing hyperpigmentation it is best to consult a dermatologist they will be able to rule out what type of hyperpigmentation you are experiencing and what might be causing it. 

The doctor may prescribe the use of OTC creams and ointments that include the following ingredients:

  • Kojic acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Corticosteroids
  • Glycolic acid 
  • Vitamin B3
  • Salicylic acid
  • Hydroquinone 
  • Licorice root extract

Other surgical treatments to remove the dark patches on skin caused by hyperpigmentation are:

  • Chemical peels
  • Pigmented lesion laser
  • Cryotherapy

Melasma Treatment

In some cases melasma will go away on its own, but most of the time it needs proper treatment. The first step in treating melasma is avoiding anything that can worsen the condition such as sun exposure, contraceptive pills, and products with harsh chemicals.

The next step in treatment is the use of topical medications and creams. These must only be used as advised by a dermatologist. The best creams for melasma are:

  • Cysteamine
  • Methimazole
  • Azelaic acid
  • Hydroquinone
  • Tretinoin

Some active ingredients that can improve melasma are:

  • Arbutin
  • Glutathione
  • Licorice extract
  • Mequinol
  • Vitamin C

Some medical procedures that can help remove those stubborn dark spots are:

  • Chemical peel
  • Laser treatment
  • Microneedling
  • Platelet-rich plasma


Hyperpigmentation and melasma look quite similar. Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation. Both the skin conditions are caused when the melanocytes start producing more melanin. This causes skin darkening, and discoloration.

Both the conditions are similar however there are some differences between them. Melasma appears as symmetrical patches and mostly appears on the face. Whereas hyperpigmentation can appear as spots, patches, and streaks anywhere on the body. 

Hyperpigmentation is caused by sun exposure, medications, genetics, and inflammation. However, melasma can worsen due to sun exposure, continuous use of medications, infrared radiations and skincare products, but the primary cause for it is hormonal changes.

To treat both skin conditions it is important to consult a dermatologist they will be able to diagnose what might be causing dark skin spots and provide treatment according to it.


If you are experiencing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by eczema. It is important to take proper care of your skin. An excellent skincare regimen can help you prevent furture eczema flareup and worsening of hyperpigmentation. An eczema skincare routine should include the use of an Eczema shampoo and cleanser to keep the skin clean. Wash your face at least twice daily.

The second step is to keep the skin moisturized with an eczema cream. Moisturize your skin at least twice daily. Or every time you wash your skin or take a bath.


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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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How to identify if you have hyperpigmentation or melasma?

Hyperpigmentation can appear anywhere on the body whereas melasma mostly appears on the face. Melasma dark patches are usually symmetrical as opposed to hyperpigmentation in other areas that can appear as spots, patches, and streaks.

What is the cause for hyperpigmentation?

The main factor that causes hyperpigmentation is the melanocytes cells. These produce excess melanin which can cause dark spots and discoloration of skin.

What are the common types of hyperpigmentation?

Some of the most common types of hyperpigmentation are:
1. Melasma
2. Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation
3. Sun spots

Which vitamin is good for melasma?

Vitamin C is believed to help with melasma. It can reduce the appearance of dark spots and patches.

Does melasma go away on its own?

Sometimes melasma can go away on its own but in most cases it needs proper attention and treatment. The treatment may also include medical procedures like chemical peels, microneedling, and laser treatment.

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