The Skin Condition You May Not Know You’re Suffering From
Knowledge is power.
This is usually the time of year when discoloration on our skin starts to reveal where we may have slacked off on our sunscreen routine over the summer. While you may be able to recognize freckles or brown spots (and should get those checked out by your derm at your next annual head-to-toe skin exam), some women also get sort of mysterious, more nebulous patches called melasma. The skin condition manifests itself in the form of brown, tan, and blue-gray blotches on the face, usually on the cheekbones, upper lips, and jawlines, but can also appear on the forehead. It's most common in women over the age of 20. To help us get fully up to speed (and to quell the immediate panic attack that ensued post-discovery), we consulted with dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles of Derma di Colore. Keep reading for his advice on prevention, treatments, and tips for keeping new patches at bay.
“Melasma is a common form of skin discoloration that’s more prevalent in women with darker skin tones that tan easily, however it can be seen across most skin complexions. While far less common, it’s also seen in men as well.”
What causes melasma?
“While the cause isn’t completely understood, it does seem to have a hormonal component. Hormonal fluctuations definitely play a role, as it is more prevalent in women and can be seen during pregnancy as well as with certain oral contraceptives.”
Sun exposure matters!
“As with most forms of skin discoloration, it’s exacerbated by exposure to ultraviolet light, including both sunlight as well as some wavelengths of indoor light. The pigmentation that shows up on the cheeks, central forehead, and upper lip will resolve or improve greatly in the fall/winter months when the UV light intensity is low, and then recur in the spring/summer.”
And what about a cure…
“There is not an easy way to cure melasma. In fact, there really is not a ‘cure’ at all, so the strategy is really prevention and management. The best strategy for prevention is the daily use of a moisturizer with sunscreen that at least contains SPF 30 [ed note: these new sunscreens may also help counteract infrared light, which some experts think are a trigger]. Additionally, sunscreen containing physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide may provide increased protection than those with chemical blockers alone.”
The best products to control outbreaks:
“Melasma can be treated with various topical creams such as retinoids and certain fading agents, like hydroquinone combination products. [Ed note: Shani Darden’s Surface is a cult favorite.]
“I will also add gentle chemical peels and lasers performed on a monthly basis. Occasionally, I will add a treatment with a gentle laser known as the Clear and Brilliant to help break up the pigment, which we offer at Derma di Colore. However, lasers must be performed with extreme caution, as they can sometimes exacerbate the melasma. Lastly, it is important to emphasize that the condition may recur, so it’s best to follow these daily maintenance tips.”