Melasma, also known as pregnancy mask, or hyperpigmentation, is an extremely common issue for women. An increased level of the hormone estrogen, either caused by pregnancy, a change in hormone levels, or birth control pills, can cause dark patches on the face. Melasma and sunspots are sometimes hard to tell apart, but Melasma generally appears as patches around the mouth, on the apples of the cheeks, on the forehead, and around the jawline. Sunspots or sun damage are generally spots of darker pigment or large freckles. I personally have a hard time telling the two apart visually.
How to prevent Melasma
If your estrogen rises, due to pregnancy or taking the pill, there’s a good chance you could develop Melasma. The single best way to prevent it is by staying out of the sun (and tanning booths) completely. The second best way is to wear good sunscreen at all times – even if you leave the house for only 5 minutes to run an errand. Zinc Oxide based sunscreens are the absolute best for protecting your skin from the sun, and I write in-depth about Zinc Oxide sunscreens here. I would recommend sunscreen with at least 10% Zinc Oxide, and at least SPF 30 at all times! Make sure to reapply if you are outdoors for more than a few hours, and reapply after swimming or sweating. Unfortunately, Melasma can happen quickly, and just one day of sun exposure without a good sunscreen can cause it. Once you get Melasma, it’s difficult to get rid of, at least quickly, so protection is by far your most important measure.
How to get rid of Melasma
If you are pregnant, you don’t want to be doing professional skin care treatments, or using most prescription skin products, nor do you want to use a product with Hydroquinone as an active ingredient. Luckily Zinc Oxide is safe to use while pregnant. DermaDoctor has an informative article that talks about Melasma in detail. There are several topical options to treat Melasma, and they are supposed to be applied just to the dark patches, not to your whole face. That way you are just lightening the dark areas, rather than lightening your whole face. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to apply a cream just to small areas of your skin, at least from my own experience.
Hydroquinone, a skin lightener, is the most common used ingredient for Melasma, and sun spots. It has elicited some controversy, because a lot of people claim it can be hazardous. Ironically, it can make you more sun-sensitive, so if you are not staying out of the sun, you can make your Melasma worse! I am not sure what to believe about the safety of Hydroquinone, but a lot of reputable skin care companies still use the ingredient. Glycolic Acid, and Tretinoin, or Retinol are also used by themselves, or in combination, to treat Melasma. Kojic acid, Azelaic acid, Licorice extract, Salicylic acid and Vitamin C are also ingredients that can possibly lighten your dark patches.
My experience with Melasma
I’ve had Melasma just around my mouth area, which I got from being on the pill (to treat acne). Oh the irony! I have also had sun spots or freckles, which are from sun damage, not from hormonal fluctuations. I’ve tried gels with Hydroquinone and Salicylic acid, and didn’t see any results. I had small tiny patches of Melasma, so it’s hard to just put the gel on that tiny area. When I went off the pill, my Melasma went away. When I went back on it, I was using a good Zinc Oxide sunscreen and avoiding the sun, so I didn’t have much Melasma surface this time around.
Photo Facials for Melasma?
Photo Facials or lasers used to lighten dark spots work well on sun damage. However, at the Medical Spa I worked at, the Estheticians said they saw poor results when treating Melasma. So I would consult a Dermatologist to see if lasers would or wouldn’t be an option for Melasma. In the mean time, it’s not easy to treat Melasma quickly, so stay out of the sun!!!