Also known as 'Pregnancy Mask', melasma is hyperpigmentation of the skin - visible by patchy dark spots - usually present on the face.
Hyperpigmentation occurs when a surplus of melanin (produced by our melanocyte cells - responsible for giving skin and hair its natural colour/pigment) is produced in certain areas in the skin.
The result is flat dark patches on the skin that vary in size and shape. These patches can be quite large in size. For some this looks like a blurred cluster of freckles and for others, can look like a large darker patch of skin.
While there is no definitive scientific consensus on the cause of melasma, what is known is the type of skins that are at higher risk. Melasma sufferers will generally identify with one or more of the following:
- 90% of melasma sufferers are female
- Likely to have naturally olive skin (i.e: Mediterranean skin types and tones)
- Typically kicks in with a change in hormones (either naturally with pregnancy or menopause; or with the presence of medication that interacts with hormones such as the contraceptive pill)
- Suffering from an autoimmune condition (e.g: thyroid conditions) is also noted as a higher risk (likely due to the impact such conditions can have on hormones)
And while sun exposure is known to worsen and darken melasma, it is not identified as the specific cause - this is what makes it different to 'sun spots'. Nonetheless, melasma sufferers should be very mindful of sun exposure and always wear sunscreen and a hat to prevent the condition from worsening.
Contrary to popular belief, melasma can be improved with the right treatments and skincare. However, it's also worth noting that melasma is known as a recurring condition - so the best approach is to treat and maintain. Without proper maintenance, it is likely for the condition to continue to re-surface.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I SUFFER FROM MELASMA?
- Seek the advice of a skin professional (e.g: Dermatologist, Skin/Dermal Therapist, and don't underestimate the knowledge of your local veteran Beauty Therapist as a start!)
- Wear sunscreen with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) suitable for your skin and always wear a hat!
Ask your therapist about the following treatments:
- Laser and light-based treatments: a customised course of IPL/LASER/LED facials can assist with setting the pigment in the layers of the skin and bringing the pigment to the surface. As the skin goes through its natural cell turnover cycle, it pushes this pigment to the surface where the cells can be exfoliated away revealing new, healthy skin cells in it's place. Specifically, a 1064nn Q-Switched laser is the gold standard in lasers when it comes to melasma treatment.
- Acid Peels: while this sounds dramatic, a customised treatment plan that consists of beneficial acids for the skin (Alpha Hydroxy Acids / AHAs) can help improve the skin's natural cell turnover cycle and assist in pushing the pigment to the surface of the skin and helping these cells shed. These beneficial acid peels can consist of Glycolic Acid Peels, Lactic Acid Peels, Tricholacetic Acid Peels, etc.
- Enzyme Peels: generally known for being gentler on the skin, enzyme peels aim to naturally speed up chemical reactions in the skin to promote skin cell renewal and shed dead skin cells from the surface layers of the skin.
- Microdermabrasion: most effective when combined with other treatments, microdermabrasion is a deep exfoliation that can remove up to 8-10 layers of dead skin from our upper most stratum of the skin's epidermis - the stratum corneum. This helps with the shedding of the pigmented layers of the skin and can stimulate cell turnover, encouraging the production of new skin cells without hyperpigmentation.
Most beneficial will be a combination of the above treatments in a treatment plan over the span of a few months - aligned with the skin cell turnover cycle - in addition to a customised at-home skin care routine.
What ingredients should you look for to incorporate into your skin care routine?
Dermatology journals have found the following to be most effective when treating melasma:
- Sunscreen - Never leave the house without it, always apply sunscreen last in your skin care routine, just before makeup and ensure it is of a suitable high SPF strength.
- Glycolic Acid - a lower strength than those in used in professional acid peel treatments is now widely available in many cleansers and toners - as well as some masks and moisturisers.
- Lactic Acid - also becoming more widely accessible in many cleansers and toners, using a low strength on a regular basis has been known to help improve hyperpigmentation over time.
- Vitamin A - also known as retinol/retinoids, Vitamin A assists to correct and normalise skin functions, and is known to help correct cell damage. Specialised creams are made available at most chemists, however, these specialised creams must be used with caution and only after consultation with a skin care professional.
- Vitamin C - listed as Ascorbic Acid on most skin care labels containing Vitamin C, it is known to lighten and brighten hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C is used across our skincare range - specifically our Beauty Boost Hyaluronic Serum, Moisture Lock Perfecting Gel-Creme and Wonder Glow Revitalising Repair Oil.
If you do feel a bit lost in trying to navigate the right ingredients and products for your routine, always consult your skin care professional who will conduct a thorough skin care analysis and consultation for you. This will enable an appropriate and customised treatment plan with the right home-care products to be recommended.