Combatting melasma: What is the most effective treatment?
Often referred to as the ‘butterfly mask’ or ‘pregnancy mask’, melasma is a common skin pigmentation disorder that can appear in various ways. Unlike other forms of pigmentation, melasma is unique in the way it shows up in widespread patches on the cheeks, forehead and above the upper lip. While there are numerous potential causes of melasma, hormonal fluctuations of any kind are the most common. This means you’re more likely to develop it whilst pregnant or on the contraceptive pill.
While melasma is harmless, it can be frustrating to contend with and even more frustrating to try and treat alone. So, if you’re looking to fade your melasma for good, here is everything you need to know.
What causes melasma?
Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation that forms as large patches of darkened skin, often due to sun exposure and hormonal changes such as pregnancy. Women who take birth control medication may also suffer due to their body undergoing a similar hormonal change, though the exact cause of melasma is not known.
Pigmentation problems occur when the skin produces excess melanin, which clusters together to make the skin tone look spotted or patchy. The pigment in our skin is there to protect us from UV light. UVA light (which is present all year round in the UK) darkens the pigment that we already have in the skin, and UVB encourages the pigment-producing cells, the melanocytes, to produce more pigment.
Even when we’re not getting UVB from summer sunshine, UVA reaches our skin every day, and, over time, this shows up in the skin as spots or patches of pigmentation, where the melanin produced by those melanocytes has clustered.
Who is more likely to develop melasma?
About 90% of melasma sufferers are women, mainly between 20 and 40. People with darker skin tones have more active melanin-producing cells in their skin, making them more prone to melasma.
What are the treatment options?
Melasma is a particularly tricky type of pigmentation to treat. It rarely resolves itself alone and often requires the help of a professional. This is because the pigment can exist in both the superficial epidermal layer of the skin and the deeper dermal ones. Targeting it in both layers will yield the best results, but that can be tricky to do.
We treat melasma in-clinic with a medical-grade skincare regime – usually a tailored Obagi Nu-Derm system or Cyspera Cysteamine cream – combining multiple ‘actives’ to subdue the over-active pigment cells and eliminate the excess pigment in the skin. Given that problems like this are often an inherent part of you and require a long-term strategy, this approach works well. We may also recommend in-clinic chemical peels alongside this to tackle the surface discolouration and speed up skin cell turnover. In resistant cases, Tranexamic Acid can be helpful. Usually provided in the form of an oral tablet, Tranexamic Acid has traditionally been used to treat heavy menstrual bleeding in women, but it’s also been shown to be a very successful treatment for melasma.
Prevention is better than cure, so ensure you’re always wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen of an SPF 50 every day on your face, neck and decolletage. In conditions such as melasma, visible light may play a role in perpetuating hyperpigmentation, so look for a sunscreen that also contains iron oxide, which can block some visible light.
To find out more about tackling pigmentation, click here to book a consultation with one of our expert practitioners.
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Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.