Melasma, also known as Chloasma, is tan or dark skin discoloration. While it can affect anyone, it is much more common in pregnant women, and is caused by hormonal changes in the body. Thankfully, Melasma usually reverses itself once the hormone levels go back to normal.
An Overview of Melasma
Melasma spots are irregularly shaped dark patches most commonly found on the cheeks, nose, lips and forehead. It causes skin discoloration, and will fade away over time. Since it’s caused by hormonal changes, it is most common in pregnant women, those taking hormone replacement therapy and pre-menopausal women. Progesterone and estrogen can cause the skin’s melanin production to change, resulting in increased production and thus the change in skin color. It is more common in light-brown skinned women living in areas with intense sun exposure. A pre-existing thyroid disease can increase the incidence of Melasma, as can an allergic reaction to medication or cosmetics. If you aren’t pregnant, or feel that there should be no reason for hormonal changes in your body, you can talk to your dermatologist to understand what is causing it.
Treatments for Melasma
While you can opt to treat Melasma, it will usually fade away once your hormone levels return to normal. Till that time, treatments can help reduce it, but it will keep recurring as your hormone levels are not normal. Therefore, it is better to treat the underlying cause (hormonal fluctuations) rather than treating the condition itself. For example, if you have recently started taking the oral contraceptive pill, you can talk to your doctor about an alternative.
Should you still want to treat it, you can ask a dermatologist to prescribe you medication like hydroquinone. This is also available in over-the-counter creams, but in lower strength. Tretinoin can also be used, but not by pregnant women. You can also use skin lightening creams or skin bleaching creams, as they will all lighten the appearance of brown skin patches. Check with your dermatologist for prescription options, or head to your closest drug-store for natural or OTC creams you can buy.
Always do a small test on a patch of skin to make sure you aren’t allergic to any ingredients. If you are pregnant, make sure you get permission to use an OTC cream as some can have harmful side effects as well.
Chemical peels, dermabrasion, galvanic facials, laser therapy and oral Tranexamic acid are all options available to help treat Melasma. Since all these treatments will leave your skin more sensitive, you will need to avoid the sun after therapy. All of them remove the top layer of your skin, causing the layer under it to be exposed. Since this second layer hasn’t been discolored yet, your skin will appear lighter and the brown skin patches will fade away. Of course, it will come back over time until the underlying cause has been treated, so it is better to opt for expensive clinical treatments once you have determined how to deal with the root cause.
If you see brown skin patches, and cannot treat it, for example when you are pregnant, you can still take steps to limit its appearance. Skin that’s affected will darken faster than the surrounding skin, so avoid going into the sun. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection. Opt for something with SPF protection of 30 or more. Don’t go into the sun between the hours of 10 a.m and 3 p.m when the sun’s rays are at their most intense. Wear sunglasses, wide-rimmed hats, and long-sleeved shirts and pants to avoid sun exposure.
Usually the best way to deal with it is to let it be, treat the underlying issue first, and then figure out if the skin discoloration needs to be addressed. For most women, Melasma goes away once the underlying cause has been handled, which means there is often no need to spend money on treating this issue. Of course, you might feel uncomfortable with the brown patches on your skin. You can always use makeup to cover the more obvious patches.
Take heart in the fact that once you have treated the base issue – whether it is an allergic reaction, a pregnancy, the oral contraceptive – it will fade away over time. Till then, you can use makeup to cover it up, avoid further skin damage by avoiding the sun, and be patient.