Deep Dive: Melasma

Author Team Essentialist

What is Melasma? It's a common skin condition that causes the development of dark, discolored patches on the skin, typically on the face. The primary characteristic of melasma is the excessive production and accumulation of melanin, the pigment that gives color to our skin, hair, and eyes. This overproduction of melanin leads to the appearance of brown or grayish-brown patches on the skin, typically on the cheeks, forehead, chin, and upper lip.The good news is Melasma doesn't cause any physcial discomfort but, it's a cosmetic concern that can cause anxiety, stress, and depression. 

Why are some affected and others not? The exact cause of melasma is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of factors like hormonal changes like during pregnancy or when using birth control, sun exposure, and genetic predisposition. Other factors that are often overlooked relate to diet and lifestyle, our physiology, stress resulting in high cortisol levels, and adrenal fatigue. As with any condition, we need to try zoom out and see the whole picture. 

What are the best treatment methods?

1. The use of sunscreen is step #1, you cannot fix the problem if you continue to allow sun exposure to make it worse! Sun exposure and UV radiation will trigger or worsen the condition by stimulating the production of melanin. 

2. Topical creams and medications that work to lighten the skin and reduce the production of melanin have proven very effective. The ones that have shown the best results use ingredients like hydroquinone (which we don't like), retinoids, corticosteroids, azelaic acid, and kojic acid, or various combinations of them.

3. Chemical peels using ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid can help improve the appearance of melasma by exfoliating the outer layer and promoting the growth of new healthier skin. Multiple sessions may be required for optimal results. If you're new to peels be careful to start slowly and test your skins tolerance. Our theory that a gentle, slow, and consistent approach is best really applies here, and our Fresh Faced Exfoliating Peel is a safe place to start if you want to treat at home.

4. Microdermabrasion is also a great procedure as it helps remove the top layer of skin where melasma pigmentation is concentrated. Similar to chemical peels, multiple sessions may be needed for noticeable improvements, and we definitely reccommend having this procedure performed by a professional.

5. Laser therapies such as fractional laser resurfacing or intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments are also highly effective at targeting pigmented areas. These treatments work by breaking up the excess melanin in the skin. Laser treatments may require multiple sessions and should always be performed by a qualified dermatologist or skincare specialist.

The takeaway? Though we don't think melasma is cause for despair, it's still important to note that it can be a chronic condition and treatment results may vary. The good news is that with a little education, consistency in sun protection, and ongoing management, you can usually control and improve the symptoms. This is one of those things that might not be fun to deal with but also isn't the end of the world.