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.
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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 lip.
– 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.
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