Hyperpigmentation is a very common condition that affects millions of people across the globe. This can take shape in many forms, including sun spots, age spots, and melasma. This last type of hyperpigmentation presents itself as brown, gray, or even blue patches across the face. In many cases, melasma is caused by hormonal changes or imbalances, like those due to pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant or have a family history of melasma, you might be looking for ways to treat it or even prevent it. Keep reading for five ways to keep hyperpigmentation from melasma at bay.
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What Can You Do to Treat Melasma?
So you’ve already noticed the signs of melasma. No need to worry! There are many options for treatment out there, from topical creams to laser therapy. Finding what works best for you might take some time, but you’re sure to come across an option that you like. Here are a few:
One of the most common melasma treatment options are topical creams. The most popularly prescribed include tretinoin, hydroquinone, and azelaic acid.
So how do these topicals work? Tretinoin is a retinoid, which can increase the speed of skin renewal and cell growth. This is necessary for evening out skin tone and reducing the look of hyperpigmentation. Hydroquinone is a lightening cream that can reduce the darkness of hyperpigmentation spots in as little as four weeks. And, last but not least, azelaic acid comes in a gel that can also speed up the cell turnover rate. But unlike tretinoin and hydroquinone, this acid also causes exfoliation.
All three of these topicals will, over time, reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. This will happen either through lightening dark tones or bringing about new, correctly-pigmented skin cells, depending on which medication you use. These medications are usually prescribed in three-month intervals because of their potency. Keep in mind that you might experience increased sun sensitivity while using these medicines, so wear sunscreen.
Similar to how tretinoin and azelaic acid speeds up the skin renewal process, so too does a chemical peel. By removing the top layers of skin, the darkened spots will fade over time. Repeated chemical peels will gradually remove the layers affected by hyperpigmentation, thus eliminating the problem areas.
You can give yourself this treatment at home with peeling agents such as glycolic or salicylic acid. The process can be repeated safely about every three weeks. However, these formulas have low strengths, which means they won’t peel up as many layers of skin. If you’re looking for a deeper peel, you’ll need to visit a dermatologist for a procedure that penetrates down to the dermis. At-home peels can only get to the epidermis, or first layer of skin, while clinical peels can reach the dermis, or middle layer.
Additionally, chemical peels won’t solve the underlying problem behind hyperpigmentation. These can only remove the darkened spots, but it won’t stop them from coming back over time. More permanent treatments, like medication or laser therapy, are required for lasting solutions.
Using lasers to treat skin conditions has become more popular over the years, with more research proving its lasting benefits. There are several kinds of laser therapies for melasma, including PicoSure, fractional, and Q-Switch treatments.
Each laser therapy type works differently to target the source of hyperpigmentation. PicoSure uses energy from laser light, rather than heat, to break apart the patches of darkened skin cells. This allows the body to better rid itself of these hyperpigmented cells through the cell renewal process. The Q-Switch laser uses the same process as the PicoSure, aside from being a heat laser. Fractional lasers, on the other hand, make tiny holes in the skin to induce the healing process, which removes these dark spots.
Most laser treatments take at least three months to produce their full results, and could take a few sessions. What kind works best for you will be determined by your skin type and the severity of your condition.
What Can You Do to Prevent Melasma?
To be quite honest, melasma isn’t a fully preventable condition. This is especially true if you’re pregnant and experiencing considerable hormonal changes. However, there are a couple of actions you can take to lessen your likelihood of melasma occurring.
Take Precaution in the Sun
Melasma can also be caused by too much exposure to the sun’s harsh UV rays. Taking the necessary precautions when going outside in the sun could prevent you from experiencing hyperpigmentation.
The most obvious way to prevent sun damage is by wearing adequate sunscreen. Make sure to apply the cream before going outside, and reapply about every hour. Try to find a lightweight formula — to prevent clogged pores — that has an SPF level of at least 30. Additionally, broad-spectrum tinted sunscreens can work better in warding off changing pigmentation due to sun exposure. Keep in mind that sweat or swimming can wash off sunscreen, so apply some more accordingly.
Protecting your skin from sun damage can be as simple as limiting your time outside in the sun. Watch the clock when you tan, go for a walk, or play with the kids in the backyard. This can be especially important the older you are, as UV rays can inflict harsher damage on mature skin.
5. Be Careful With Hormonal Birth Control
Surprisingly enough, hormonal birth controls, such as the pill or patch, have been linked to melasma. If you’ve noticed a difference since going on or switching birth control, you might consider getting off that medication.
Since melasma can occur from hormonal changes, using birth control can bring upon this condition. If you need to be on birth control, consider non-hormonal options, such as a copper intrauterine device. Additionally, it might be a good idea to talk with your doctor about these symptoms and see what they recommend going forward.
Treatment Takes Time
Keep in mind that if you’re experiencing melasma, any kind of treatment option will take time to work. The skin is a delicate organ, especially the face. It needs gentle handling. Lasting damage can occur if you undergo procedures too often, such as too many chemical peels without space to recover in between. Most treatments take a few months to see lasting results, so be sure to be patient and trust the process.