Melasma is often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy,” but the truth is it can occur at any time. It can be triggered by starting or stopping oral contraceptives, lactation, hormone replacement therapy, thyroid disruptions or perimenopause. Melasma affects 5-6 million Americans annually and the American Academy of Dermatology reports that women account for roughly 90% of those afflicted. It is a hormonal skin condition, but the exact cause is still being studied.
The most common occurrences of melasma appear in young women with brown or olive colored skin. The result is large, dark dense skin discolorations in areas of the nose, forehead, cheeks, chin, or forearms. There is no physical discomfort associated with melasma, but there is often psychological stress caused by its appearance.
Melasma does not fade naturally over time. It can actually worsen with sun exposure, but fortunately there are several safe and effective treatment options to help address the condition.
- Chemical Peels. Exfoliating the skin through chemical induced peeling with ingredients such as alpha hydroxyl acids, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid or resorcinol. These are applied by a skin care professional.
- Microdermabrasion. Manual exfoliation with a diamond tipped wand by a skin care professional.
- Hydroquinone (HQ) Cream. A topical bleaching product. It is available over-the-counter and in prescription strength for home use.
- Topical lightening products. Other topical products include kojic, lactic or azelaic acids, mulberry or licorice extracts, arbutin and resorcinol.
- Ascorbic acid. Topical Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can accelerate results.
- Retinol. Topically applied it increases cell turnover and accelerates pigment lightening.
- Sunscreen. Daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended. Sun exposure worsens Melasma.
Treating melasma involves a combination of a home care regime and professional treatments. It is important to have patience since melasma can be very stubborn and difficult to treat.