Melasma, also called cloth or chloasma, is a condition characterized by the appearance of dark patches on the skin.
Although it does not cause any other physical symptoms, for many people it can be annoying and affect their self-esteem. Fortunately, there are different treatments to reduce melasma. Find out here which ones and what you can do to prevent this condition.
What is melasma?
Melasma is a pigmentation disorder that causes the appearance of brown or gray spots on the skin, mainly on the face.
Only 10% of all cases of melasma occur in men, with women with darker complexions or those who are pregnant being the most at risk of developing it. For this reason, melasma is often called the “pregnancy mask.”
This condition usually affects the face, especially the bridge of the nose, forehead, cheeks, and upper lip. However, it can also affect the forearms, neck and shoulders, and to a lesser extent, other areas of the body that are commonly exposed to sunlight.
Although health professionals do not fully understand what causes melasma, they point out that it may be due to the malfunction of melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing pigments.
- Flaky or dry skin? This can help you
Therefore, people with dark complexions (with more melanocytes) are at higher risk of melasma. Other factors that can also influence its appearance are:
- Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, with hormone treatments, or when taking birth control pills.
- Excessive sun exposure.
- Having a family history of melasma.
- Using certain skin care products that cause irritation.
How to treat melasma?
Melasma can resemble other skin conditions, so although it can be diagnosed by visual examination, in some cases a biopsy can be used. This consists of removing a small piece of skin for laboratory analysis.
Once the condition is identified, the dermatologist will determine the best option to treat it. Among the most common are:
- Hydroquinone: it is usually the first option to combat melasma. It is in the form of a lotion, gel or cream, which is applied to the affected area. It works during the night, lightening the skin that has an excess of pigmentation.
- Tretinoin: is another cream that is used to lighten the skin. In some cases it can be used together with hydroquinone.
- Corticosteroids– It comes in the form of creams or lotions, and helps lighten the color of patches caused by melasma. It should be used in small amounts to avoid long-term side effects.
- Azelaic or kojic acid: These are other types of topical medications that work by lightening the dark areas of the skin caused by melasma.
- Chemical peel or microdermabrasion: consists of removing the superficial layers of darkened skin. It is done in several sessions separated by long periods of time to avoid injuries.
- Laser treatment: consists of low-power laser sessions to progressively lighten the affected skin areas.
- Light therapy: consists of using a broad spectrum light that generates heat on the hyperpigmented area to eliminate it.
How to prevent melasma?
Although the treatments developed above can be helpful, they do not always work for all cases. Also, melasma can reappear even after a successful procedure.
Experts agree that the best way to combat melasma is by preventing it, for this, take these measures into account:
- Reduce exposure to sunlight: Wear clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants, and avoid exposure during midday, as this is the time when UV light is strongest.
- Use sunscreen throughout the year (including winter): preferably use high-quality sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. It is also advisable to opt for broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB light. Remember to apply it before going out and every two hours or so while you are in the sun.
- Avoid sunlamps, and tanning beds or salons.
Keep in mind that sun exposure is strongest on or near surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, and areas painted white. Also, the sun’s rays are strongest in early summer and the skin burns faster at higher altitudes.
With regard to diet, there is currently no scientific evidence on foods or beverages that alleviate the effects of melasma. However, experts advise including foods that are beneficial for skin health in general, especially those rich in vitamin D, in the diet:
- Oranges and their juices.
Until significant scientific evidence from human trials is available, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should exercise extreme caution.
Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.
Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.
Sources consulted: Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.