Do you notice brown or grayish patches developing on your face? Perhaps you have these spots occurring on your cheeks, forehead, the bridge of your nose, upper lip, or chin? Patches may even develop on the forearms or neck. What are these spots, and how can you treat them?
This condition is medically referred to as melasma and is sometimes called, “the mask of pregnancy.” Melasma worsens with hormonal fluctuations, like those experienced during pregnancy, hence the colloquialism.
Melasma is caused by a spur of melanocytes, which are the cells in the epidermis, or outermost layer of skin. These cells produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin it’s color. People with dark skin tones have more melanin-producing melanocytes present in their bodies, whereas fair skinned individuals have fewer.
Hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, generate more melanin pigments when exposed to sunlight. Aside from pregnant women or individuals taking hormonal contraceptives, people with darker pigments in their skin, specifically light brown tones, have an increased chance of developing melasma. Latino, North African, African-American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descendants are more likely to develop melasma.
How Can You Prevent Melasma?
Melasma is a common skin problem characterized by dark patches on the face and sometimes forearms. Women, specifically those taking birth control pills, and people with darker skin are more likely to get melasma. Unfortunately, melasma is common during pregnancy and may not fade after delivery.
How can you get rid of these embarrassing spots once they’ve materialized? Follow these simple tips to minimize the appearance of melasma:
- Sunlight triggers melasma even through clouds and windows. Avoid the sun and choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection of at least SPF 30, preferably with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically limit the sun’s rays
- Skin care products that irritate the skin may worsen melasma. Use products that contain all-natural or non-irritating ingredients. Peels and masks should be avoided.
- Avoid waxing areas of your face as this can worsen melasma symptoms.
- Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy may trigger melasma. If you’re on these prescription medications, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Coping with Melasma
According to the National Institute of Health, the majority of women (50 to 70 percent) experience some degree of melasma during pregnancy. The condition is said to be more prevalent in women who have multiple, subsequent pregnancies. Genetics can play a part in the condition as well.
Speak with a Professional About Melasma
Rather than suffer from embarrassing marks that might not clear up after pregnancy or discontinuation of contraceptive use, talk to your dermatologist about treatment. Dr. Mariano Busso can help you determine whether your melasma has progressed and review your options for restoring a clear, confident face. Keep in mind that many treatments cannot be used during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.