What is the Difference Between Melasma and Hyperpigmentation?

They look the same, they act the same – they are even caused by similar things! But the difference between melasma and hyperpigmentation may be more than you think. If you suffer from one of these skin conditions, then it’s important to understand each. After all, they each have their own triggers, causes, and treatments.

Here’s what you need to know about melasma and hyperpigmentation so you can spot the difference for yourself and find a treatment that works for you.


All About Melasma

Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation. This condition is most common in women, but can also occur in men. Melasma is triggered by many different factors, and this is what distinguishes it from traditional hyperpigmentation. The triggers of this condition can also make it somewhat difficult to treat. 

The Symptoms

How do you know if you have melasma? Well, you’ll notice dark, brownish patches of skin on your face, usually on these areas:

  • Chin
  • Cheeks
  • Bridge of the nose
  • Forehead


Typically, the face is impacted symmetrically. That means if you have it on one cheek, then you’ll have it on the other – matching marks. Melasma can also occur on other parts of your body that are exposed to the sun such as your forearms and neck.

What Causes Melasma?

Melasma is caused by the production of melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH). The pigment-producing cells within the skin are known as melanocytes. MSH will activate the melanocytes which cause skin discoloration. There are numerous factors that can stimulate MSH including heat, stress, dehydration, obesity, the sun on your face, or any other part of your body. It can be difficult to treat melasma because some of the triggers such as stress and heat can be hard to avoid.

Treatment for Melasma

The treatment available for melasma depends on its cause. If a woman is experiencing it as the result of hormonal birth control or pregnancy, chances are it can disappear on its own.

If you’re diagnosed with melasma and want to treat it, there are creams available to lighten the skin, but treatments such as these do not guarantee that the melasma will not come back. 

Just as with the more general condition of hyperpigmentation, the best thing you can do is to use sunscreen daily and minimize your exposure to the sun when you can. Below we will recommend several products that can help lighten the appearance of melasma and hyperpigmentation. 

Living with Melasma

Melasma is difficult to treat simply because so many things can stimulate the melanocytes to produce the pigment that is at the heart of the skin disorder. There are treatments available, but they may not have an impact on melasma or clear it up completely, so it’s important to know what you can do to help minimize the appearance of dark spots and prevent them from getting worse. To help you cope with melasma, you should:

  • Consider using makeup to help even out the skin tone
  • Wear sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 every day
  • Wear a hat or other device that helps to shield your face from the rays of the sun 

Protective clothing is very important when you’re outside, especially if you plan to be outside for an extended period of time. Of course, if you’re self-conscious about the dark spots caused by melasma, then make sure to discuss other possible treatments with Dr. Nazarian. There may be other procedures such as chemical peels, laser therapy, or microneedling that can help.


All About Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is not necessarily its own condition but a blanket term that describes the darkening of the skin. Hyperpigmentation can present itself all over the body, in a few large areas, or small patches.

Usually, hyperpigmentation isn’t harmful but is caused by the overproduction of melanin. There are some instances where hyperpigmentation is a sign of an underlying medical condition, so you will want to consult with your physician. 

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

Your skin produces a pigment called melanin, which helps to give it color. Several conditions can alter the way your body produces melanin, plus a few conditions. Hormones, medications, endocrine system disorders, excessive sun exposure, and trauma to the skin.

Different Types of Hyperpigmentation

There are several different types of hyperpigmentation. Melasma is one of those types, but there are also others, including:

  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation - This condition results from inflammation or an injury to the skin. Acne is a very common cause of this type of hyperpigmentation with the dark spots it can leave behind on the skin.
  • Sunspots – These dark spots on the skin are also called liver spots. They’re usually the result of excessive exposure to the UV rays of the sun over time. They appear on areas often exposed to the sun such as the face and hands.

The Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation

The main indicator that you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation is the appearance of darkened spots on the skin. They can develop anyplace on the body and can be of varying sizes.

The Risk Factors for Hyperpigmentation

There are several risk factors for developing hyperpigmentation. The two biggest are exposure to the damaging rays of the sun and inflammation. Both of these things can cause the skin to increase its production of melanin, the pigment that colors the skin.

Other risk factors for developing hyperpigmentation include:

  • Darker skin color which can be more prone to changes in pigmentation.
  • Use of oral contraceptives or pregnancy, especially in developing a condition like melasma.
  • Trauma to the skin such as a burn or wound.
  • Taking drugs that can increase the sensitivity of your skin to sunlight.

Treatment for Hyperpigmentation

For some issues, you can be prescribed creams that contain skin-lightening ingredients such as hydroquinone. However, these topical treatments cannot be used for long periods with breakouts or you may make the hyperpigmentation worse.

Retinol are also helpful in the fight against hyperpigmentation since they can lighten and brighten the skin. When using products with retinoids, the product must be used daily for several weeks or months before you may notice a change. Other ingredients that can help with skin lightening include:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Azelaic acid
  • Kojic acid


To help prevent hyperpigmentation and keep it from getting worse, sunscreen is vital. Make sure to choose a sunscreen that meets these specifications:

  • At least SPF 30
  • Contains the active ingredient of zinc oxide to physically block the sunlight from skin
  • Has broad-spectrum UVB and UVA coverage


A few of our favorite sunscreens include:

EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46


Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50


Alastin Skincare HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 36


In our product section below you will find a variety of solutions that can help with the appearance of hyperpigmentation and melasma. 

Living with Hyperpigmentation

If you don’t have melasma but are struggling with issues of hyperpigmentation, then you’ll need to find some ways to help deal with it. Hyperpigmentation is annoying but it’s usually not harmful or a sign that something more serious is going on.

With good sun protection, some dark spots will fade on their own. Other spots may need more aggressive treatments with creams discussed earlier. But even with treatment, dark spots may not fade totally.

Products That Can Help With Hyperpigmentation & Melasma

If you’re struggling with hyperpigmentation or melasma, then the right skin products may be able to help you lighten the spots and feel better about your appearance. We’ve already talked about some of the best sunscreens offered at The Skin Spot that is your first line of defense, but we also offer some other skincare products that can help.


Cyspera topical cream contains cysteamine hydrochloride, a key ingredient that works to reduce the appearance of skin discoloration. It’s The Skin Spot’s number one treatment for improving the appearance of dark spots and patches and minimizing the recurrence of skin discoloration. We’ve found that it’s a great product for long-term use as well. Visit our blog to learn more about cysteamine cream


NazarianSkin Pigment Correct utilizes botanicals and natural skin brighteners to help treat skin discoloration. This hydroquinone-free formula also helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while lightening skin.


This serum addresses issues you may be experiencing with stubborn discoloration. SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum harnesses the power of tetrapeptide-30 and niacinamide to not only help with discoloration but also to prevent new spots from appearing. Recommended for all skin types.


This is a dark spot corrector that is perfect for daily use. It contains kojic acid as well as niacinamide to help brighten skin and improve its appearance. Using Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense corrector daily can produce results in as little as two weeks. Visit our blog to learn more about the top SkinCeuticals products


Biopelle Exfoliate Cream Cleanser exfoliating cream cleanser helps to clear away dead skin cells as the glycolic acid works to fight hyperpigmentation. Adding this cleanser to your daily skincare routine can help to leave your skin feeling fresh and healthy, evening out your skin tone along the way.


Brighten dull skin with this daily Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% lotion. It’s one of the strongest Vitamin C concentrations offered to help moisturize the skin and even the skin tone. Plus, it offers a robust lineup of antioxidants to help keep the skin healthy such as Vitamin E and Coenzyme Q10.

What is the Difference Between Melasma and Hyperpigmentation?

Melasma and hyperpigmentation can result in similar spots, but they are not the same thing. Their symptoms and causes are very different. Hyperpigmentation can be the result of sun damage, while melasma can occur for a variety of reasons. 

Melasma will affect different parts of the body than hyperpigmentation. Melasma can form on any area of the body that is exposed to the sun but is most prevalent on the cheeks, forehead, upper lip, and chin. Plus, melasma is symmetrical meaning there will be matching patches of discolored or darken skin that will appear on each side of the face. 

Call Us Today

If you’re experiencing issues with dark spots on the skin, then the first step you need to take is to schedule a consultation with Dr. Nazarian. She will create a plan to help target the underlying cause and hopefully say goodbye to dark spots on your face, hands, neck, and arms for good.

Schedule your consultation today by calling (310) 773-3039 or fill out our online form and one of our team members will contact you as soon as possible.
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I’ve had to diagnosis for my face hyperpigmentation and melasma..My face has spots on both sides of my face and tends to get red by the light and the sun.I desperately want help my spots started developing after the first time i waxed my face.

Rosa Herrera

thank you

colleen carter

My mother and both sisters, as well as myself have this.

I have felt, for years, that there would be a doctor out there that would want to study us and he could find a lot of information by doing so.

I could tell the doctor some important things which would help.

Sandra McIntire

I have a frackles spots like brown on my chin and nose can I use hydroquinone 2% cream on it to get fade


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