To look at, dark patches of skin on the face might appear to be the result of the same thing – too much sun – but when you look a little closer, those abnormalities in tone are actually very different. In the second of our Know Your Skin series, we explain the difference between hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation
In general terms, hyperpigmentation refers to uneven darkening of the skin caused by external stressors, the most common of which is sun exposure. When sunlight reaches the skin, it triggers the production of melanin within the lower layers which then travels up to the surface of the skin, resulting in visible dark spots or patches. These dark spots can develop in all shapes, sizes and densities, and can affect all skin types, tones and ethnicities. If not caused directly by UV rays, hyperpigmentation can develop following skin trauma (such as cuts or scrapes that break the skin), blemishes and the use of topical treatments that might be too intensive for your skin type.
In order to successfully prevent dark spots and uneven pigmentation from developing, the best advice is to apply a sunscreen every morning before leaving the house, ideally one with an SPF30 or more. Using a sunscreen will also prevent hyperpigmentation caused by breakouts or healed injuries from becoming darker.
Treating dark spots and sun damage isn’t easy but as the pigment is mainly found near the surface of the skin, topical products and treatments are the most reliable ways to brighten and correct uneven tone. Look for brightening ingredients like Vitamin C in serums, masks and moisturisers, and for more stubborn pigmentation, opt for in-clinic treatments like lasers or peels to help rid the skin of clusters of melanin that your skin care can’t break down by itself.
Symptoms of Melasma
While hyperpigmentation is caused by things affecting the skin from outside the body, melasma develops because of internal changes. When there is an increase in the production of the female hormone oestrogen, melanin production goes into overdrive which leads to the development of large patches of darkened skin appearing on the face, usually on the cheeks and upper lip, in an almost symmetrical pattern. This hormonal change can be due to a new type of medication or contraception being ingested by the body, or as the result of pregnancy which is why melasma almost exclusively affects women.
Once you develop melasma, the only way to treat the condition is to manage it as well as possible. That means always using a sunscreen during the day to prevent existing dark patches from worsening and employing a combination of skin care and supplements to suppress and control the amount of melanin produced by the skin.
As most of this melanin activity takes place deep within the dermis, treating melasma isn’t easy. However, once your hormones have settled down and a good skin care regime is in place, you can enjoy an even and radiant complexion.
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