Patches of brown discoloration may appear on different parts of our body, especially the face. The condition is known as melasma. Although melasma is usually harmless, you can seek to lighten the discoloration if you feel it negatively affects your appearance.
What causes melasma?
Although brown spots normally occur as we age, melasma may appear early on in life. The patchy dark discolorations are caused by over-production of melanocytes, the cells responsible for the skin’s color.
Dark facial pigmentation can be provoked by the following:
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light coming from the sun — UV rays tend to stimulate the production of melanocytes. In fact, melasma may return even after a spot has faded after just a small amount of sun exposure. More cases of melasma usually occur during the summer.
- Hormonal changes — Melasma in pregnant women is called chloasma, commonly known as the “mask of pregnancy.” Hormone replacement and birth control pills also affect melanocytes, triggering melasma. Although melasma is more commonly seen in women, it can also occur in men.
- Cosmetic products — Melasma may worsen with the use of certain skin care products or cleansers that cause irritation.
How is melasma diagnosed?
Dermatologists will check the patient’s skin during initial consultation. To further evaluate the depth of melasma, a Wood’s light may be used.
What are the treatment options for melasma?
Melasma can eventually fade on its own, yet some cases can last for the remainder of a patient’s life. In this case, the following treatments are available:
- Hydroquinone. This topical treatment is often the initial treatment for melasma. Available over the counter in cream, liquid, and gel forms, hydroquinone is applied to the affected areas of the skin. Higher concentrations may be prescribed by dermatologists.
- Retinoids and corticosteroids. To further enhance skin lightening, creams that contain tretinoin, corticosteroid, and hydroquinone may be prescribed by your dermatologist.
- Non-Hydroquinone products. There are several skin care products that do not contain hydroquinone that may be used to lighten discoloration. These include Vitamin C, kojic acid, azelaic acid, lignin peroxidase, glycolic acid, ellagic acid, retinol and others that may benefit individuals who are intolerant to hydroquinone.
- Sunscreen. The use of daily broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30+ is vital. It is important to apply two layers of sunscreen to the face, using about 1/8 teaspoon with reapplication if outdoors for a prolonged period of time.
- Procedures. If the topical medications above do not help your melasma, cosmetic procedures may be suggested by your dermatologist. A series of light chemical peels may gently remove the outermost layer of the skin, allowing new cells to generate in its place. The use of superficial lasers including the non-ablative fractionated lasers may be helpful when treated over a period of time. Combination treatments are often recommended.
What is the treatment outcome for melasma?
Any of the procedures listed above can yield good results, although melasma can be quite stubborn to eliminate and may recur. It may take a couple of months to notice any improvement. This is why it is important to seek professional advice and to follow the dermatologist’s instructions religiously.