July is pigmentation and melasma awareness month and when it comes to skin concerns, pigmentation issues are among the most common. However, within this category, there are various types of pigmentation, each with unique causes and characteristics. Two frequently discussed conditions are general pigmentation and melasma. Although they may seem similar, understanding their differences is crucial for effective treatment and management. In this blog, we’ll explore what pigmentation and melasma are, and how they differ.

What is Pigmentation?

Pigmentation refers to the coloring of the skin caused by melanin, the pigment produced by melanocytes in the skin. Variations in pigmentation can result from an increase or decrease in melanin production, leading to conditions such as hyperpigmentation (excess melanin) or hypopigmentation (reduced melanin).

Common Types of Pigmentation:

  1. Hyperpigmentation: This is an overproduction of melanin that leads to dark spots or patches on the skin. It can be caused by factors such as sun exposure, inflammation, and certain medications.
  2. Hypopigmentation: This is a reduction in melanin production, resulting in lighter patches of skin. Conditions such as vitiligo and albinism fall under this category.
  3. Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH): This occurs after an injury or inflammation of the skin, such as acne, which leads to darkened spots as the skin heals.

What is Melasma?

Melasma is a specific type of hyperpigmentation characterized by brown or gray-brown patches on the face, particularly on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and upper lip. It is more common in women and often associated with hormonal changes, such as pregnancy (commonly referred to as the “mask of pregnancy”), birth control pills, and hormone replacement therapy.

Key Characteristics of Melasma:

  • Symmetrical Patterns: Melasma typically appears in symmetrical patterns on both sides of the face.
  • Hormonal Triggers: It is often triggered or exacerbated by hormonal changes.
  • Sun Exposure: UV exposure can worsen melasma, making it more pronounced.

Key Differences Between Pigmentation and Melasma

  1. Causes:
    • Pigmentation: General pigmentation issues can arise from various factors including sun exposure, genetics, skin injuries, inflammation, and certain medications.
    • Melasma: Primarily triggered by hormonal changes and exacerbated by sun exposure. It is less influenced by external skin injuries compared to other forms of hyperpigmentation.
  2. Appearance:
    • Pigmentation: Can appear as spots, patches, or areas of varying colors depending on the type (e.g., dark spots in hyperpigmentation or lighter areas in hypopigmentation).
    • Melasma: Characterized by larger, blotchy patches with a brown or gray-brown hue, usually appearing symmetrically on the face.

Managing Pigmentation and Melasma

Sun Protection:

  • For both pigmentation and melasma, sun protection is crucial. Daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher can prevent worsening of the condition and aid in treatment efficacy.

Topical Treatments:

  • Ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, hydroquinone, tranexamic acid, glycolic acid, and retinol can help lighten hyperpigmentation. For melasma, combination creams that include these ingredients along with corticosteroids and tretinoin are often used.

Professional Treatments:

  • Chemical peels, microneedling, and laser treatments can be effective for both conditions but should be performed by a professional to avoid adverse effects, especially for melasma which can be sensitive to aggressive treatments.

Lifestyle Adjustments:

  • For melasma, managing hormonal triggers can involve discussing alternative contraceptive options with your healthcare provider or seeking treatments that do not exacerbate hormonal imbalances.


Understanding the distinctions between pigmentation and melasma is key to selecting the appropriate treatment and achieving the best outcomes. While pigmentation encompasses a broad range of skin color changes, melasma is a specific, hormonally driven condition that requires targeted care. Consulting with a skin professional is essential to accurately treating these conditions and ensuring your skin remains healthy and radiant. Book a complimentary Skin Consultation at First Impressions to discuss your concerns and receive a customized skin care and treatment plan.

Yours in Skin Health, Tara