What Is Melasma?

There are many different types of skin conditions out there, some of them are more common than others. Today we’re looking at a very common skin condition called Melasma. What is it, what causes it and are there any treatments available?

Melasma, also referred to chloasma, is a skin condition where light to dark brown or greyish pigmentation develops, usually on the face. It typically appears on the upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead and chin, although the forearms can also be affected.The condition can affect men, but it is very rare, and over 90% of those who suffer with melasma are female, mostly between the ages of 20 and 50. It can affect any skin type, but is more common about people with darker or olive skin like Hispanic, Asian or Middle Eastern individuals. Melasma usually becomes more noticeable during the summer months and fades during the winter. It is not an infection, it is not contagious and not caused by an allergy. Also it is not cancerous, and will not become cancerous.

What causes melasma?

The exact cause is unknown, but several factors do contribute. Birth control pills, pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy (HRT and progesterone) antiseizure medications and other medications which make the skin more prone to pigmentation after exposure to UV light are all thought to be triggers of melasma. The condition can run in families, suggested that genetics could be a factor and the condition may be hereditary. Exposure to the sun without the proper protection is thought to be the main cause of melasma, particularly among individuals who are genetically predisposed to develop the condition. Clinical studies have shown people are more likely to develop the skin condition during the summer, when the sun is most intense, and the pigmentation becomes less visible during the colder months.

Melasma also commonly develops in pregnancy and is often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy”. In fact women may find that skin which is already more pigmented, such as nipples, freckles or scars, may become even darker. These changes may be caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy. Pregnant women experience increased estrogen, progesterone, and melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) levels during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Melanocytes are the cells in the skin that deposit pigment. However, it is thought that pregnancy-related melasma is caused by the presence of increased levels of progesterone

Are there any treatments for melasma?

Wearing sun protection every day will help you to avoid melasma and prevent current pigmented patches from getting any worse. Any day you plan to spend time outside you should apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to any exposed skin. Even when the weather is cloudy, UV rays can still penetrate and damage skin. Try to make applying sunscreen part of your daily routine as UV light intensifies pigment changes. If you have developed melasma during pregnancy and the pigmented patches are bothering you then try concealing make-up while you are pregnant rather than lightening products, the changes may go away on their own after birth.

If these pigmented patches make you feel self-conscious, or they haven’t faded a few months after giving birth then there are treatments you can try.

1) Clear + Brilliant

This gentle laser treatment is best suited for mild or superficial cases of pigmentation. The laser works from the inside out to remove signs of damages and leave skin looking brighter, smoother and more evenly-toned. Although skin may feel dry and rough for a few days after treatment, while the top layer of skin heals, results can be seen within a week. A course of treatments is usually recommended to see the best results.

2) Skin Peels

Also known as chemical peels, skin peels use chemical compounds or acids to remove damaged layers of the dermis and encourage the growth of new skin cells underneath. It is suitable for all skin types, even dark skin which is at risk from pigmentation with other skin resurfacing treatments. This procedure is highly effective and patients can resume their normal activities quickly, but as the treatment cuts into the skin extra care needs to be taken in the sun after treatment. You should wear SPF30 every day.

3) Fraxel

For moderate pigmentation that Fraxel is an ideal treatment. This is a slightly more aggressive laser treatment which to eliminate the skin of dead cells and to stimulate collagen production. Fraxel can be used to lighten areas of dark skin and has proved particularly effective at treating pigmentation and melasma. The use of a laser ensures that the skin heals quickly and it is important to remember that no tanning of any kind is permitted either during or for three months after treatment.

There are skin products, such as Obagi, which are designed to lighten the skin. If you are interested in these ask your aesthetic practitioner, and let them know if you are breastfeeding or plan to become pregnant. You practitioner will examine your skin and help you decide which course of treatment is best for you. Book your complimentary skincare consultation here.

For more information on Melasma visit the British Skin Foundation

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