It is not uncommon for men and women to confuse
sun damage with melasma
as both conditions involve pigmentation on the face. Despite the similarities in
pigmentation, melasma and sun damage are actually quite different. The source of
the discoloration is the major difference between the two melasma and sun damage.
For example, melasma is caused by pigmentation (melanocytes) that is generated in
response to hormonal fluctuations. Because it is related to hormonal changes (pregnancy,
menopause, oral contraceptives, etc.) it is considered chronic and has no cure.
The idea behind melasma treatment is to control and suppress the formation of new
pigmented cells thereby minimizing the appearance of melasma. One of the challenges
in treating melasma is that is can occur in the dermis (deep skin layer). Because
the condition can be rooted deep in the skin, the condition can be sometimes be
resistant to treatment.
In contrast, the pigment associated with sun damage (solar lentigines, seborrheic
keratosis, freckles, sun spots, liver spots) lies closer to the surface of the skin
and is much less challenging to treat. Existing sun damage is effectively treated
with class IV medical lasers whereas melasma may be better addressed with topical
preparations. Q-switched (very short pulsed and high powered) laser technology is
very effective at breaking down the pigment associated with sun damage in several
treatments. This technology also has the benefit of completely destroying the cells
associated with the pigment. This means that new cells replace the old ones and
do not contain the same pigment that was present previously. With q-switched laser
technology, we are able to completely remove most age spots and sun damage.
The following descriptions highlight the differences between melasma and sun damage.
- Light to dark brown patches usually seen on the forehead, cheeks, chin, upper
- Very symmetrical in appearance on both sides of the face.
- Discoloration may be dense pigment and may lie on the epidermis (upper layer
of skin), dermis (lower layer of skin), or combination of both.
- Linked to hormonal changes and considered a chronic, recurring condition.
- Sun exposure, heat and humidity may exacerbate condition.
Sun Damage (Sun Spots, Age Spots, Freckles, etc.):
- Appears randomly on all areas of the face.
- Usually not symmetrical, may be patchy or scattered.
- May be associated with textural changes to the skin also known as photodamaged
skin (lines, wrinkles, etc.)
- Not related to hormonal changes but directly linked to sun exposure.
- Responds well to lasers.
- Not considered a chronic condition.