Melasma is a skin problem that typically affects people between the ages of 20 to 50, most especially women. It sometimes runs in families making it a possible hereditary condition. It appears like dark patches on the skin, with a brown to gray-brown color. They are most prevalent around the face area and are slightly bigger than freckles. You might have then on the cheeks, the bridge of the nose, chin, or on the forehead. It can also be found in other parts of the body that are prone to direct sunlight exposure like the arms and neck. Some people with the worst conditions have disrupted lifestyles due to the condition’s cosmetic appearance. But, there is no itchiness or soreness associated.
Melasma can also affect pregnant women, and is called chloasma or “mask of pregnancy”. The condition is mainly caused by the changes in the level of hormones. Pregnant women produce higher amounts of estrogen and progesterone, plus the melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) around the second and third trimesters. Melanocytes are cells that give rise to skin pigmentation. Thus, an individual with high amounts of these cells experience hyperpigmentation.
The hormones estrogen and progesterone on the other hand cause melasma to occur on the upper lip area. This is most common among young women who use patches and oral contraceptives. Pregnant ladies are also a common victim. Taking into consideration the cause, it also means that women who have undergone hormone replacement therapy will also be affected with melasma.
In terms of correlation with other diseases, it has been reported that those with thyroid disease have a high tendency for developing melasma. This is also due to the overproduction of MSH, the same hormone found in pregnant women for skin pigmentation. Less common cases that might incite melasma development involve allergic reactions to certain medications and skin products.
It should be noted that melasma is not an infection or disease. It is not contagious and is normally caused by internal catalysts instead of allergies and the like. It also does not lead to cancer or a symptom of one.
Once you are affected with melasma, it can be difficult to treat especially during pregnancy. If left unattended, you will notice that the condition gets worse for the subsequent pregnancies. This is even more common during the summer season when the sun’s rays are at its peak. If the condition has only developed during pregnancy, there is a high possibility that your skin will turn back to normal once you deliver. However, you need to be very vigilant so that it doesn’t get worse over time. In order to keep your skin in its best condition, always use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Make sure that the formula also contains Zinc, Titanium, or mexoryl for full protection. Always apply it every morning and do a quick reapplication whenever you anticipate being in the sun for a long time. Moreover, wear protective clothing such as a hat or jacket. And if possible, always bring an umbrella with you.
Hyperpigmentation is also a common skin problem, but it should not be confused with melasma. For one, hyperpigmentation may affect the entire body that is exposed to the sun. They show up as slightly large dark spots known as age spots, sun spots or liver spots. The condition is caused by over exposure to the sun, the use of peels and exfoliants, acne scarring and the like. Melasma, on the other hand are more pronounced on the face and neck area. They look more like a patch, around the size of a dime. They can be sometimes larger and is usually seen on each side of the face. The condition is believed to be mainly caused by the interaction of the hormone estrogen to certain environmental factors. Once you start developing it, exposure to sunlight will only worsen the condition. However, it should be noted that sunlight exposure alone does not cause melasma.
If you develop patches on the face and leave it alone, it can disappear in less than a year as long as you don’t worsen it with sun exposure. The dark patches usually only affect the surface cells and only go deeper when the discolored area splits and the pigmented cells go deeper. Minor conditions, such as those that only affect the epidermis, can be treated with skin care products. What makes treatment difficult is when the condition has penetrated both the epidermis and dermis.
Based on the National Institute of Health statistic reports, around six million women in the United States alone are suffering from melasma. It does not have any permanent cure, but has various effective treatments.
In some cases, melasma appears and disappears for a short period of time, without fixed intervals. This might be due to the fluctuations in the hormone levels of the individual. The best way to cope with the condition is to wear a sunscreen daily. If you only have minimal patches, you can rely on sunscreen and a good whitening lotion to help brighten the dark area. However, this is not 100% effective on all people.
You might be considering microdermabrasion for melasma, but it is not recommended. Since the condition runs deep, the procedure will only get the surface cells and would not be able to penetrate the damaged cells deep down. To effectively treat melasma, the procedure has to reach the dermis.
The most effective products for curing melasma are cream-based retinoid treatments. This is due to their low inflammatory risk and the antioxidants. Glutathione, grape seed extracts, bilberry extracts are examples of antioxidants that are highly effective. There are also melanogenesis inhibitors like lactic acid, rumex occidentalis, kojic acid and arbutin that deliver the same effect.