What is melasma and how can it be treated?
Hyperpigmentation is often referred to as its own type of skin condition, when really, it’s a broad term that encompasses any darkening or discoloration of the skin. One such form of hyperpigmentation that’s become more recently talked about of late is melasma.
Melasma more commonly affects women than men, particularly post-pregnancy, which is why you may have seen new mums Laura Byrne, Snezana Wood and Shay Mitchell talking about it.
And because it can be hard to differentiate between melasma and stock-standard pigmentation, (and therefore diagnose what your own skin is going through) we asked dermatologist Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan to fill us in on the skin condition.
What is melasma?
“Melasma is a brownish mottled pigmentation or discolouration commonly on the face due to the overproduction of melanin (pigment) by your melanocytes,” she explains. “It tends to appear on the forehead, upper cheeks and the skin above the upper lip.”
What are the common causes of melasma?
Like other forms of pigmentation, sun exposure and sun damage are big contributors to the appearance of melasma, as well as “genetics, pregnancy, hormonal treatments like the oral contraceptive pill, or certain medications that make one more sun sensitive”.
Is melasma harmful to the skin at all?
Aside from its appearance being psychologically distressing for many, the emergence of melasma is no cause for alarm. “It is a benign non-dangerous skin condition without any implications to your health,” confirms Dr Shyamalar.
How to prevent melasma
Upping your sun protection game will help to prevent the appearance of melasma. Think, consistent use of a high SPF and broad-based sunscreen, with diligent reapplication throughout the day. Dr Shyamalar also recommends wearing “a wide brimmed hat to reduce reflection from surfaces and to wear close-fitting and wrap-around sunglasses.”
When it comes to the rest of skin care, she also says it’s important to invest in a good routine. Look to use products consisting of vitamin B3 and vitamin C, using these actives in the morning and then vitamin A cream at night.
How to get rid of existing melasma
As well as incorporating the above ingredients into your routine, Dr Shyamalar says there are some treatments that can help to minimise the appearance of existing melasma.
“Your dermatologist [is likely to] prescribe a compounded topical hydroquinone preparation as a stand alone or in combination with topical retinoids and weak corticosteroids,” she says. “Azelaic acid (20 per cent) has been shown to lighten melasma when it's superficial.”
She also notes that chemical peels have variable success in treating melasma, but have a part to play in conjunction with topical creams.
Another new therapy with promising results, is taking tranexamic acid orally. Dr Shyamalar says “your dermatologist will be able to assess if you are a good candidate for this treatment option”.
Main image credit: Getty
Have you ever experienced melasma? Do you have any tips for dealing with skin discoloration?