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WHAT IS MELASMA

Nadia Lam

Melasma is a very common condition with skin discolouration usually seen in women in the reproductive years, ages 20-50.  The discolouration is a patchy brown, tan or blue grey typically appearing on the upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead and chin and just a little may appear on the arms and neck.  The areas of the body that are more exposed to the sun.

This condition is primarily related to daily sun exposure and heat, external hormones such as birth control pills and internal hormonal changes as seen in pregnancy.  Other factors may be hormonal replacement therapy (HRT), family history, race, anti seizure medication and other medications.  Most women do get it during their pregnancy for which then is called chloasma or the mask of pregnancy.

Melasma is most common among young women with olive and brownish skin tones like Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean individuals.  These women are typically from warmer climate countries and even though they may not be sun bathing everyday, baking their skin, but they get this just by being in the heat and sun everyday.  Even when it’s minimal.  If you are walking up and down in the sun with no sun protection from the UVA/UVB  rays, especially as a child or teenager, your skin overtime will get more and more damaged throughout the years and the skin discolouration will become more visible and darker as you get up into your mid to late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.  A simple exfoliation won’t help at this point.  A more intensive peel or brightening treatment is what’s needed to speed up the skin regeneration process to reveal even skin.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

The most common, less expensive treatments are the over-the-counter skin brighteners, also known as, bleaching creams.  Hydroquinone cream (HQ) is a medicated ointment that helps lighten the skin, causing the appearance of melasma to fade.  The main function of this cream is to block the natural chemical process in your skin that is responsible for creating melanin, and since melanin produces dark skin pigmentation, the amount of it that is related to melasma will be reduced.  Creams with ingredients such as kojic acid and melaplex are also skin brighteners but just not as harsh and irritant as the hydroquinone.  Tretinoin is also a good alternative for over-the-counter creams.  It is a type of Vitamin A that increases the rate at which your skin sheds cells which can help patches of the melasma fade faster.

If you’re not too keen on the chemical creams there are also natural ingredients that have been known to help when applied topically such as paper mulberry, bearberry, watercress, mandelic acid, lactic acid, lemon peel extract, apple cider vinegar and vitamin c.  These natural substances are thought to suppress pigment-producing and pigment-darkening components in your skin without completely nullifying them and causing irritation or sensitivity to light.

To get faster, long lasting results, have professional procedures done.  Popular ones that are most effective are glycolic peels, Intense Pulse Light (IPL), microdermabrasion and lasers, which tend to be more expensive.  Each one of the treatments are done in a series of anywhere between 3-6 treatments.  With these professional procedures you run the risk of it being too harsh on the skin and burning or darkening it further.  So be careful and make sure your type of skin can handle such treatments.  Once your skin can handle it, these treatments can also be doubled up with each other to speed up the results of having clear beautiful skin.  Be sure to read the articles in the Beauty Treatments category to gain more knowledge about these procedures.

No matter what procedure or topical treatment you choose to do, the most prevention and non-prescription home treatment that tops it all is the application of a broad spectrum sunscreen.  Applying a sunscreen with an sun protection factor (SPF) ranging from 15-20 minutes before anticipating going outside will help to prevent an outbreak of melasma and may reduce the risk of current melasma getting worse.


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