Melasma – a mask nobody likes to wear

Woman unmasked

If you’ve got it, you probably find it maddening. You’ve likely experimented with a few things to get rid of it, too….. or at least to cover it up. Meanwhile, you spend time wondering how to avoid getting it at all. And what exactly is it? Read on for a brief overview of melasma plus some things you should and shouldn’t do when dealing with its manifestation – namely, those brown or gray-brown colored patches that show up uninvited on your skin.

The Ins and Outs
Melasma mostly troubles women. Only 10% of people affected are men. The disproportion could lie in the fact that pregnant women often get melasma. Hormonal changes are a frequent trigger. People with darker skin are also more likely to get melasma. The American Academy of Dermatology theorizes that melasma occurs when the color-making cells in the skin (melanocytes) produce too much color. People of Latin/Hispanic, North African, African-American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent are more prone since they have more active melanocytes than those with light skin.

Unfortunately, melasma tends to favor the facial region. Brown or gray-brown patches appear on the cheeks, forehead, bridge of nose, above the upper lip and on the chin. Patches can appear on the forearms or neck but this is less common. Melasma presents neither a health threat nor physical pain but most people, particularly women, dislike having an uneven skin tone.

Birth control bills and hormone replacement medicine are considered to be melasma triggers. So is ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun which stimulates melanocytes. There is also evidence that some cosmetics can exacerbate the condition.

The Do’s and Don’ts
DO use sunscreen as your first line of defense against melasma. Remember, UV rays stimulate melanocytes, the color-making cells in your skin which could lead to melanoma’s emergence or re-emergence. Added bonus: sun screen protects against skin cancer.
DON’T wax areas of your face or body affected by melasma. Waxing may cause skin inflammation which in turn can aggravate melasma.
DO choose gentle skin care products. Select formulas that don’t sting or burn, as products that irritate the skin can worsen the condition.
DON’T opt for extreme measures to treat melasma right away. Consult with SBC to determine the best course of action. There are many topical treatments available that will lighten dark patches. Medicines containing hydroquinone, tretinoin and corticosteroids have been shown to have success.
DO have patience. Melasma can fade on its own, especially when the trigger is pregnancy or birth control pills. Once the pregnancy is over or a women ceases to take birth control, it has been known to disappear. If undergoing topical treatment, it may take several weeks to notice improvement.
DO consider a chemical peel (such as glycolic acid), microdermabrasion or dermabrasion if changing circumstances or topical medicines fail and your melasma persists. Again, consult with SBC to determine the best treatment plan for you.