The darkening of the skin associated with melasma is a common concern for many women. In fact, melasma appears in about 15% of pregnant women and up to 25% of women who take birth control pills, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Though up to 90% of those who develop melasma are women, men can also get this condition.
Despite being so common, many patients with melasma have questions and concerns about their condition. What is melasma? How is melasma treated? Can I prevent melasma? Let’s take a deep dive into the condition and find answers to your questions about melasma.
What is Melasma?
Melasma is a fairly common skin problem. It is sometimes called “the mask of pregnancy.” It causes a darkening of the skin, most commonly on the face. People with darker skin are more likely to develop melasma.
The characteristics of melasma are brown or gray-brown patches that most often occur on the cheeks, the forehead, the nose and upper lip, and the chin. Melasma can also appear in other places on the body, including the neck and forearms.
What Causes Melasma?
Melasma is associated with the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This means pregnancy, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can trigger melasma. Melasma can also be associated with stress and thyroid disease.
Sun exposure can also be associated with melasma. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun can damage melanocytes, which are the cells in the skin associated with pigmentation.
How is Melasma Diagnosed?
Dr. Doppelt and his staff can diagnose melasma by looking at your skin. They might use a special light, called a Wood’s lamp, to see how deep the melasma penetrates the skin. This kind of examination can also help Dr. Doppelt rule out any other causes of skin darkening like bacterial or fungal infections.
In some cases, Dr. Doppelt might take a biopsy. This is usually to check for more serious skin conditions. A biopsy involves removing a tiny piece of affected skin for further testing.
What is the Difference Between Melasma and Hyperpigmentation?
Though both are associated with darkening skin, melasma and hyperpigmentation are separate conditions. Though the treatments and symptoms are similar, they are not one and the same.
One of the most common forms of hyperpigmentation are liver spots, also known as age spots. Hyperpigmentation is a result of sun and UV exposure. Melasma, on the other hand, is often hormone associated.
What is the Treatment for Melasma?
If your melasma is caused by pregnancy or birth control pills, the condition can go away on its own when your hormones go back to normal.
If your melasma doesn’t disappear on its own, there are several ways Dr. Doppelt and his staff can treat melasma. The first choice is often creams associated and topical agents that can be used to lighten the skin. These melasma treatments include:
- Hydroquinone: This medicine comes as a cream, lotion, gel or liquid and works by lightening the skin.
- Tretinoin and corticosteroids: These are often used in conjunction with hydroquinone. Treatments that contain all three medicines (hydroquinone, tretinoin and corticosteroids) are called triple cream.
- Azelaic acid or kojic acid: These acids can be used to lighten and brighten the skin. Glycolic acid is also sometimes used, too.
If the topical route doesn’t work for you, other treatments for melasma are available. These options include laser treatment, chemical peels, dermabrasion and microdermabrasion. These treatments work by stripping away the first few layers of skin and can help lighten the condition’s hyperpigmentation in many cases of melasma.
The only way to know what kind which melasma treatment is best for you is to consult with a board-certified dermatologist like Dr. Doppelt. He has the skill, experience and knowledge necessary to assess your individual case and prescribe the right treatment for your skin. Not only will the wrong treatment likely be less effective, but it can also come with a host of unwanted side effects.
How Do You Prevent Melasma?
According to information from Harvard Medical School, there are a few things you can do to prevent melasma when pregnant or taking hormones. The most important, however, is to be extra cautious with sun protection.
Exposure to the sun can aggravate melasma and worsen the condition. It is essential to be diligent about sun protection with melasma and many other skin conditions.
However, not all sunscreens are created equal when it comes to preventing melasma. It’s important to know that the best sun protection options not only block the sun’s harmful rays, but also light and heat. This means those at risk of melasma should seek a sunscreen that uses physical blockers light zinc and titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens that contain oxybenzone don’t offer the same protection and can even trigger reactions that can worsen the condition.
How Can I Cope with Melasma?
Most cases of melasma respond well to treatment, though it can be stubborn. There are a few things you can do to cope with it in the meantime.
Coping methods include:
- Wearing makeup to even the skin tone and cover discoloration
- Following your dermatologist’s treatment plan
- Wearing sunscreen every day
- Wearing a hat that shields your face or clothing that protects your skin
If you need help coping with or are seeking treatment for this condition, count on Dr. Doppelt and Southeastern Dermatology to deliver the care only a board-certified physician can provide. From making sure you have an accurate diagnosis to weighing treatment options, Dr. Doppelt and his staff can make sure you get your melasma under control. This means you’ll be back to loving the skin you’re in with professional care.
Ready to find a solution for your melasma? Reach out to our office and schedule an appointment today.