Melasma - What Is It & What Causes It?
If you struggle with dark patches on your face, you could have a condition called melasma. Characterized by smooth, brown spots that look almost like large freckles, melasma can last for months or years. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melasma appears most often on the forehead, cheeks, chin, bridge of the nose and upper lip. The dark patches usually occur on both sides of the face in a nearly identical pattern.
“Melasma is a hyperpigmentation disorder, so the more pigment, or color, there is in your skin, the greater the chance of hyperpigmentation,” said Ashley Johnson, LA, a medical aesthetician at Samaritan Plastic, Reconstructive & Hand Surgery.
Johnson reports that although clinicians aren’t sure what exactly causes melasma, women often see the condition appear when there are changes in hormones: during pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy or with some types of birth control. Sometimes, melasma occurs with no apparent cause.
“The combination of sun exposure and hormones seems to be the trigger for most people,” said Johnson.
Melasma can appear and fade on its own, or it can last for years. To combat the condition, Johnson recommends these steps:
- Use a physical sunscreen. Physical sunscreens can help block the sun that can contribute to hyperpigmentation. Look for a product that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Remember to use the product every day, rain or shine. Try SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield, or Epionce Daily Shield SPF 50.
- Use daily skin lightening products. Skin lightening products are designed to accelerate the growth of new, healthy skin and break up the over-active pigment in the dark spots. Products that contain retinol, glycolic acid or azelaic acid can help improve melasma. Be sure you are using the products in combination with a good sunscreen. Try SkinMedica Lytera 2.0, or Epionce Melanolyte Pigment Perfecting Serum & Melanolyte Tx.
- Incorporate topical antioxidants. Choosing skincare products that contain antioxidants can help even out your overall skin tone. There is good evidence that vitamin B3 (niacinamide) and vitamin C can help improve dark spots. Try SkinMedica Lumivive or Epionce Intense Defense Serum.
- Get professional treatment. Facial treatments that encourage new skin growth can help you see results more quickly. A chemical peel uses a medical grade exfoliant to remove the outer layer of skin and reveal the new skin underneath, and can accelerate the fading of melasma. A facial is a gentle exfoliation of surface skin. It has less dramatic results than a chemical peel but may be a better choice for sensitive skin. Johnson recommends an enzyme facial every month or a chemical peel every three months for those struggling with melasma.
“Once you find a regimen that works for your melasma, you will likely need to develop a maintenance plan to keep the condition from coming back,” said Johnson. “It can take up to six months to see results, so don’t become discouraged if you feel like treatments aren’t working."
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