Melasma or Pigmentation: What's the Difference?

Forget sagging skin and wrinkles. The number one concern in our country is dark patches on the skin. While sometimes these can be attributed to sun exposure, often it just happens (like many other conditions) because of hormonal imbalance. However, we usually use the word pigmentation as an umbrella for any type of patchiness, when actually it is very different from something called melasma.

This is usually because of sun exposure, acne, sunburns etc - meaning that it is caused by external factors. In hyper-pigmentation the skin is dark where it was damaged. So old acne marks, which refuse to fade or sun spots, or a dark area where you perhaps got sunburnt are all in this category. This is very easily removed and controlled with kojic and azelaic acid, vitamin C serums, doctor’s office treatments like chemical peels, or IPL and Fraxel lasers. 

This is much harder to treat because it is caused by internal factors. Because melasma is estrogen related, mostly women suffer from it. It is characterised by symmetrical patterns around the cheek, forehead, top of the lip, shoulders or arms. While this can get worse because of sun exposure, it is not caused by it. Women find that they develop melasma during pregnancy, menopause, because of certain birth control pills, or genetics - no one is really sure why it really happens. However, it is very difficult to treat because, it is in a way, part of your DNA. In this case maintenance is key. While you can stop doctor’s office treatments if you have hyperpigmentation, when you have melasma, you have to keep up the maintainance. Usually the same treatment is given as pigmentation but now there’s new research on something called phytic acid. 

Mitaji first told me about phytic acid peels, which are supposed to be the best treatment against melasma. Phytic acid is one of the better peels to fight it for many reasons. Firstly it is mild and can be used on the most sensitive skins. Secondly it needs minimal pre and post recovery time. Thirdly, and most importantly, not only does it help fade dark spots, but it also helps deactivate an enzyme, which is responsible for patchiness when produced in large quantities.  

However, in both cases you need to take the help of a dermatologist instead of trying to treat it yourself. And yes, do ask if they have phytic acid peels. I haven't tried it, but if you have then let me know your experience in the comments below.

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