Melasma & What Causes It
Brown patches, discoloration, pregnancy mask – are some of the names given to melasma. While Melasma isn’t painful and doesn’t present any health risks, it can cause emotional distress for the estimated 6 million American women who develop these dark patches on their faces. The condition can be difficult to treat and there is quite a bit of misinformation about what causes it.
Melasma is a pigmentation disorder characterized by brown or grey-brown patches on the skin. It can develop anywhere on the body, but it’s most common on the forehead, around the mouth – especially upper lip, or along the outer perimeters of the face and cheeks. It is the overproduction of melanin. Melanocytes are cells that live in the dermis, which is the deepest layer of the skin, and produce melanin, or pigment. You are more likely to get melasma if you have a darker skin type, because your skin naturally has more active pigment-producing cells.
Two main causes of melasma are hormones and sun exposure:
Hormones & hormonal medication:
Fluctuations in certain hormones can cause melasma, which is why it commonly occurs during pregnancy. Melasma may also occur when you either start or stop hormonal contraception, including birth control pills, or when you take hormone replacement therapy.
The sun is the big culprit in triggering melasma. Melasma can be caused or worsened by not only the sun’s rays, but also heat and visible light. This means that even sunscreens that protect against skin cancer aren’t enough to ward off melasma. This can make treating melasma a challenge, especially in the summer months.
Best ways to get rid of melasma:
While you can get rid of melasma in some cases, that may not be the case for everyone. Melasma is very complex and occurs so deep in the skin that it makes it difficult to treat. The success of the treatment is based on an individual’s skin type and tolerance, and especially how dedicated a person is to improving their skin and avoiding triggers.
Your dermatologist may prescribe medications or topical treatments to help lighten melasma. Commonly used options are topical retinols and retinoid treatments, which are applied to the skin to help speed your body’s natural cell turnover process. This may help dark patches clear more quickly than they would on their own.
You may also be able to get it under control using at-home treatments. Maintaining a good cleansing routine morning and night to remove environmental pollutions that can bind to the skin and damage the protective surface, making it weaker and more susceptible to sun damage. Exfoliation is also important because it helps lift visible pigmentation off the skin. Including a serum with Vitamins C and E can help heal damage from the sunlight and improve skin health and ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Following your routine with a good moisturizer helps restore the barrier of the skin to protect it from damage. And of course always wearing a sunscreen as your last step every day.
Melasma is a very complex and challenging condition that requires constant care. It may not be able to be erased completely, but there are many things you can do both at home and with a dermatologist to keep it in check. The pigment was forming in the skin long before it made its way to the surface where it is now visible, so it’s not just going to happen overnight. But staying dedicated to your routine can help you correct this condition and prevent future occurrences in your skin.