Melasma 101

Melasma 101

July 20, 2021

One of the most frustrating skin concerns women struggle with (besides acne) is MELASMA. Chances are, if you have melasma, you are nodding your head right now because you know how difficult it can be. As an esthetician who is now dealing with it during pregnancy, I understand firsthand how pesky it truly is. Lucky for me, I know what to do to keep it at bay, but it sure does love to pop out at the most inconvenient times! So let’s talk about what melasma is, and then we can deep dive into what makes it worse, what can improve it, and lifestyle changes that can help manage it best!


Melasma is a type of  hyperpigmentation that characterized by dark brown patches on the face, typically on the upper lip, cheek bones, and forehead.  It is driven by the following triggers: hormones, UV exposure, inflammation and heat. When pregnant, having previous sun damage and underlying inflammation is typically the biggest component here when it comes to whether you will develop it in pregnancy or not (I was a sun worshipper so it is no surprise that I have it!). But, either way, excessive hormones during pregnancy alone can trigger it.


What makes these four triggers create hyperpigmentation on the skin? It’s due to melanocytes. Melanocytes are pigment-producing cells within the skin that create pigment aka melanin. When they are sent into overdrive (from things like hormones and heat), the skin over-produces pigment, leaving these dark patches on the face. 


The reason that melasma is so pesky and difficult is because a lot of these triggers are hard to control. Hormones are a huge battle for so many women, including myself, and then things like sun exposure and heat are almost unavoidable during the summer and warm months. Because of this, it can be discouraging for people who experience melasma, as it is hard to fade it with so many different triggers that can keep it present.


So what can make melasma worse? Things such as birth control pills (the synthetic hormones in birth control can trigger melanocytes to go into overdrive), working outside in the heat, certain medications (like anti-seizure medications), scrubbing the face too harshly and inflaming the skin, saunas/hot yoga classes, waxing the face (wax = heat), being in the sun without sunscreen or a hat, many light and laser treatments (they usually produce heat), pregnancy, using improper skincare that upsets the barrier, and tanning beds.


Whew, now that we got through that, let’s chat about what can improve melasma! There are four main areas that I want to focus on here: hormones, skincare, medical procedures and lifestyle changes.


First, let’s begin with hormones. The best thing you can do here to avoid melasma is to avoid or stop taking birth control pills. Synthetic hormones trigger an over-production of melanin in the skin. It is also important to optimize your natural hormones: manage your thyroid, stress, and sleep, and don’t forget to eat a healthy diet. If you are pregnant, give yourself grace and be patient because your hormones are going crazy right now. Typically, after pregnancy, melasma will fade within 4 months as hormones get back in balance. 


Next up is skincare, which is my favorite topic to talk about! Skincare can drastically improve the appearance of melasma, and I myself have noticed some really great improvements from what I am about to suggest. To start, I always suggest adding in products that can lighten the skin and improve pigment by stopping the formation of melanin. These products are called “tyrosinase inhibitors” and the first product that comes to mind here is my Brightening C Serum. Both L Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Ferulic Acid can help lighten the skin and improve pigment when used daily for at least 4 months.


Next, I suggest that you wear a facial sunscreen every single day, as preventing new sun damage and reducing UV exposure is key for managing melasma. My go to sunscreen is my HydraGlow Tinted SPF that I wear every single day! Lastly, adding in skincare products that gently exfoliate the skin to reveal healthier, new skin can improve melasma as well. The top product for this is retinol (my 0.25% retinol pads are amazing!). Now, keep in mind, if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, retinol is not advised during pregnancy. However, vitamin C serums and sunscreens are safe!


Medical procedures can improve melasma as well. As an esthetician, I see the best results with treatments such as microneedling with PRP (the PRP is key here as this really reduces inflammation in the skin and can attack pigment), chemical peels, and the PicoWay laser. Most lasers are a no go for melasma as they can trigger heat and make melasma worse. However, PicoWay does not use heat, and is safe for melasma skin. After pregnancy, I will for sure be doing a PicoWay treatment, as well as some microneedling treatments with PRP! During pregnancy, there are a few chemical peels that may be safe, but typically, you want to wait until after delivery to do any medical treatments at all.


Lastly, certain lifestyle changes can really improve melasma. The biggest ones worth focusing on include: limiting sun exposure, wearing a hat whenever you go outside, reapplying sunscreen if you’re out for more than an hour, keeping the skin cool when outside or while working out (cool towels are great), avoiding high-heat areas such as saunas and hot yoga classes, and then boosting vitamin D in your diet (vitamin D is great for skin health).


While all of these things that improve melasma may feel a little overwhelming, it is totally worth it to see improvements in your complexion from making a few changes. Anyone who suffers from melasma knows how embarrassing it can feel and how much you would love to have an even skin tone that doesn’t feel blotchy. **Melasma is a VERY common thing and you have nothing to be ashamed of, however! I just happen to know the insecurities that come out when melasma rears its ugly head, because I am battling it myself. 


I am confident that understanding triggers for melasma and making changes to set your skin up for success can really bring life-changing results for you! Just remember: it takes a lot of patience, consistency, and grace!