Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma: Breaking Down the Differences

Not all spots and dots are the same.
BY Sarah Lim
| Last updated Feb, 2022
Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma

Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma—a popular debate all over. You’ve likely heard of hyperpigmentation, a term that many people use to refer to darker areas on their skin. But what is melasma, and how is it different than hyperpigmentation?

It may surprise you to learn that melasma is actually a type of hyperpigmentation. Both melasma and hyperpigmentation can cause dark patches on the skin. And they’re caused by the production of too much melanin, which is the pigment component of the skin.

Although some people refer to hyperpigmentation and melasma as sun spots or age spots, this skin discoloration isn’t always caused by exposing your skin to the sun or from aging—and the causes can be different for each. Here’s your guide to know about hyperpigmentation vs. melasma.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation essentially classifies any dark area or patch on your skin that’s different from the rest of your skin, creating an uneven skin tone. Freckles, melasma and sunspots (also called liver spots) are all forms of hyperpigmentation.


What causes hyperpigmentation? Excessive sun exposure, skin inflammation or injury (think acne-prone skin) and even certain medications can cause hyperpigmentation.

Most notably, medications that can increase your sensitivity to sunlight, such as antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral contraceptives and cholesterol medications, can increase your risk for hyperpigmentation.


A few things can treat hyperpigmentation, but it’s essential to know that the dark patches may not completely go away.

Most importantly, starting a sunscreen regimen and applying daily (and reapplying as necessary) can help prevent hyperpigmentation. Even can prevent existing hyperpigmentation from getting worse. Using sunscreen can help dark areas fade on their own without further treatment in many cases.

There are also skincare ingredients that can help improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation, such as retinol, vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).


The absolute best thing for you to do to prevent hyperpigmentation is to use sunscreen daily and protect your skin from sunlight whenever possible. This thing is crucial on your face, as this is where hyperpigmentation is most likely to occur.

You can also help prevent hyperpigmentation by treating acne to lower inflammation and the chances of scarring and not picking skin. It can even lead to inflammation that can cause areas of hyperpigmentation.

What Is Melasma?

What Is Melasma

When it comes to melasma vs. pigmentation, melasma is simply a type of hyperpigmentation that tends to be darker and more noticeable. People having darker skin tones are more likely to have melasma than people who have a family history of melasma.

In appearance, melasma can be brown, dark brown or even a grayish brown. While most common on the face, melasma can happen on any part of the body that gets sun exposure.


This is where hyperpigmentation melasma is different. Melasma is most commonly found in women since it’s caused by hormonal changes in the body. Being pregnant, taking oral contraceptives or being on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), all of these can increase your risk for melasma.

Like other forms of hyperpigmentation, medications that can cause sensitivity to light can also influence your risk for melasma. Also, getting sun exposure without wearing sunscreen or protective clothing can cause hyperpigmentation, too.


Unfortunately, melasma isn’t as simple to treat as hyperpigmentation. This is because of the fact that it’s heavily influenced by hormonal changes in the body. And this means that the underlying hormonal changes may need to be remedied before melasma can improve. Also, it means that people will respond differently to different types of melasma treatment.

Treatment for melasma can include hydroquinone, a controversial skincare ingredient that is considered to be the gold standard of treatment by many professionals. However, since prolonged use of hydroquinone can actually worsen hyperpigmentation over time, it’s essential to use this product. Especially you should use it in concentrated forms, only under the direction of a dermatologist.

Sunblock is going to be an essential part of melasma treatment, as it can help dark areas fade over time and prevent new spots from forming. When it comes to hyperpigmentation vs. melasma, melasma may take longer to fade than other forms of hyperpigmentation.

Laser skin treatments may also help melasma areas improve. Remember that when pursuing treatment for either hyperpigmentation or melasma, choosing more gentle options can be better. It’s because harsh treatments have the potential to cause inflammation that can lead to more hyperpigmentation melasma.


Preventing melasma is similar to preventing hyperpigmentation—sunscreen is a must. And for those who are at higher risk for melasma, staying out of the sun during peak hours (in many areas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) or using extra precautions when out during this time, can be helpful.

Suppose you’re on medication that increases your sensitivity to light. In that case, it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor about what you can do to either change medications or reduce your risk for hyperpigmentation or melasma.

Takeaways for Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma

Takeaways for Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma

Given all this information, what are the most important things to know when dealing with hyperpigmentation melasma and preventing it?

  • Sunblock is a must thing for you to protect your skin from sun damage that can cause discolored areas on the skin. But it’s also crucial to prevent existing darkened areas from worsening over time.
  • Sun damage isn’t the only reason hyperpigmentation and melasma can occur—inflammation, skin injuries, hormonal changes and acne can all influence your risk of developing discolored or darkened areas on the skin.
  • Treatment can help, but everyone can respond differently to different treatments. And your hyperpigmentation may never completely go away—which is why prevention is so important.
  • Always follow up with your physician or dermatologist to address changing or problematic areas on your skin and to pursue the appropriate treatment options based on your skin type.

Did the Differences Surprise You?

Were you surprised at all the similarities and differences with melasma vs. pigmentation? Do you suffer from melasma or hyperpigmentation? What future tips would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below!

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