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Freckles, sun spots and melasma: What’s the difference and how to keep your complexion clear

Did you know that the dark spots and patches you see on your skin aren’t the same? Freckles, sun spots, post-inflammatory marks and melasma are actually different types of hyperpigmentation.

According to Dr Liew Hui Min, consultant dermatologist, SOG Health – HM Liew Skin & Laser Clinic, what we refer to as “pigmentation” is actually the colour (the amount of melanin) in the skin. Hyperpigmentation is an increase in colour and hypopigmentation is a decrease in colour, while depigmentation means a loss of colour.


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1. Freckles  

According to Dr Rachel Ho, an aesthetic doctor with La Clinic, freckles are typically located on sun-exposed sites of the skin, such as the nose and cheeks, and their margins are not well defined.

And though it is due to an overproduction of melanin on the surface of the skin (the epidermis), it does not lead to an increase in pigment cells, said Dr Liew. And its appearance may fade with less exposure to UV.

2. Sun spots

Ranging from hues of yellow to brown, these develop after a skin injury. “Post-inflammation hyperpigmentation occurs because the injury or inflammation causes an increase in the formation and/or redistribution of melanin in the skin,” explained Dr Ho. She also added that darker skin tones are more prone to PIH.

The causes behind PIH include acne, scratches, cuts, abrasions, eczema and even infections.

4. Melasma

As for melasma, topical skincare products can sometimes work better than laser treatments, shared Dr Liew.

For homecare, look for:

Retinoid: Inhibits the transfer of melanin to the surface and facilitates melanin dispersal. “It helps with PIH, especially in skin with acne conditions, and is also a good combination treatment with hydroquinone,” said Dr Liew.

Retinoids can also help increase cell turnover and the shedding of dead skin cells to help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, shared Dr Ho. Though Dr Liew cautioned that it can be irritating for dry, sensitive skins.

Exfoliating acids (AHAs and BHAs): Removes dead skin and allows skin to regenerate for a brighter, more even skin tone. The downside: Due to the acids’ high irritability effect, it can worsen hyperpigmentation if used too often or in too high concentrations.

Hydroquinone: An active that interferes with melanin production, Dr Liew shared that it is the most effective in combating hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, it is commonly associated with irritation and dryness, and “is not recommended for long-term treatment use due to the risk of ochoronosis (permanent bluish-grey darkening of the skin)”.

Azelaic acid: A tyrosinase (an enzyme that encourages melanin production) inhibitor, it helps keep skin even. And while useful for addressing PIH, Dr Liew explained that it has a risk of irritation and may not be suitable after an eczema flare-up. Plus, the irritation can sometimes lead to an uneven skin tone as well.

Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid): Helps block a melanin-producing enzyme and is also antioxidant-rich, which prevents fine lines, wrinkles and rough skin texture. It’s suitable for most skins, though it may irritate sensitive or rosacea- and eczema-prone skins.


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A clear gel that’s packed with sun protective properties, alongside ellagic acid, arbutin, vitamin C, glutathione and tranexamic acid to reduce signs of ageing and hyperpigmentation at the same time.

Available at from the official AHC site.

Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum, S$104

Together with the brand’s OSMV technology that protects and delivers the active ingredients where and when it’s needed, this vitamin C booster combines nine sources of vitamin C, including 20 per cent pure L-ascorbic acid, to target signs of ageing and reduce hyperpigmentation while visibly enhancing complexion’s glow.

Available at

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum, $165

A multi-level serum that works on the eight stages of melanogenesis (the process of producing melanin pigments). The blend of encapsulated actives in the SPHR complex and a new-gen melanin regulator controls excess melanin production to improve skin’s luminosity and clarity.  

Available at and

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