What is Melasma? Everything You Need to Know
Medically reviewed by Dr Jen Haley, Dermatologist on 19 April 2020
Melasma. It’s a word that’s familiar to many of us, yet few of us know what it actually is. What does melasma look like? What causes it? Can it be treated? These are all great questions and ones that we’re going to answer right here.
What is melasma and what causes it?
Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation that creates a dark patch of skin that typically appears over the cheeks, upper lip, and bridge of the nose. Often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy”, melasma is triggered by hormonal changes (or a hormonal imbalance) so is particularly common amongst pregnant women and those using hormonal birth control.
According to Harvard Medical School, 6 million American women develop the dark patches associated with melasma on their faces. But while melasma is more prevalent amongst pregnant women (The British Skin Foundation estimates that 50% of pregnant women could be affected by it), it’s not limited to them.
Contrary to popular belief, men can also experience melasma with excessive sun exposure being a particularly big culprit, as well as various genetic factors. This is of particular concern here in Australia, where our UV rays are especially strong thanks to close proximity to the sun and our infamously thin ozone layer allowing more harmful rays to penetrate through.
As with other types of hyperpigmentation, these influences stimulate excess production of melanin (the pigment that dictates the colour of our skin). This then causes areas of skin to appear especially dark in colour, often appearing patchy or uneven.
Although melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation, it has its own characteristics.
Melasma is characterised by the dark areas of skin it creates, typically found on the face. You’re most likely to find melasma on the bridge of your nose, your cheeks, forehead, upper lip and chin, although it can also occur on other parts of the body such as your forearms if they’re frequently exposed to the sun.
Beyond changes in physical appearance, melasma has no other symptoms. It won’t cause your body any harm, although here at Mr Brains and Brawn we’re very aware that hyperpigmentation like melasma can be challenging when it comes to your self-esteem and confidence.
Can melasma be treated?
The good news is that melasma can be treated! The not-so-good news is that treatment won’t eradicate your melasma until its trigger is removed. This means coming off any hormonal birth control (though that decision should always be discussed with your doctor) or waiting until you’re no longer pregnant and your hormones have returned to their ‘normal’ state.
The most effective treatments for melasma are limiting sun exposure with a good sunscreen and adding products containing AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid), Vitamin C and Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to your daily skincare regimen. Retinol (Vitamin A) can also help improve discolouration in more severe cases of melasma but we don’t recommend Retinol use if you’re currently pregnant (always consult your doctor or medical professional before use). Melasma may also be worsened by heat (hot yoga, cooking over a hot stove) and visible light so tinted sunscreen with ferrous oxide is highly recommended from the moment you wake up until you fall asleep.
Your first step to treating melasma is daily sunscreen use, this will help prevent your melasma from worsening by protecting your skin from the UV rays that stimulate melanin production, which is what’s causing areas of your skin to darken.
The use of a high factor sunscreen can reduce the intensity of melasma by 50% so you’re going to want to look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 and above to maximise protection. Our Mesoestetic sunscreen also contains Azeloglycine which is clinically proven to effectively control pigmentation and brighten skin.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid will work deep into your skin to encourage faster skin cell renewal (a process that usually takes around 21 days), speeding up the growth of new skin layers which will reduce and remove melanin (the culprit of your melasma). When the skin cells turnover, the superficial pigmentation is lifted off, making skin appear brighter and more even.
Meanwhile, Vitamin C is used to brighten your skin. Studies have also shown that Vitamin C can help to neutralise free radicals (molecules that break down your skin’s collagen), helping to heal hyperpigmentation caused by sun damage.
Finally, Niacinamide (or Vitamin B3) is clinically proven to stop the transfer of pigments within the skin, whilst also increasing collagen production which can help to minimise hyperpigmentation like melasma.
Will melasma fade on its own?
Melasma can fade at certain times of the year. You might notice that your melasma is less noticeable in the winter months, this is because you’re naturally reducing your exposure to UV rays as you’re indoors more and the sun isn’t so strong. As a result, your skin will be producing less melanin to protect you.
However, beyond seasonal fluctuations, your melasma is unlikely to fade of its own accord. To fully ‘cure’ your melasma, you will need to remove its trigger. Otherwise, a science-based treatment plan can be very effective in minimising its appearance.
Not sure how to get started with treating your melasma? Get a free virtual consultation with one of our specialists to find the right skincare routine for you!