While melasma is harmless, these dark patches can be frustrating to live with – something we are sure many of us ladies out there can relate to. In a survey conducted by Nielsen Singapore, it is reported that more patients are checking in for hyperpigmentation problems than ever before. Women (and men) are starting to grasp that an uneven skin tone can be terribly ageing. Lines and wrinkles matter less when the skin reflects the light and is a clean, bright canvas – which does not happen when there are light-absorbing splodges everywhere. Ageing aside, it can also mean an entire make-up rethink in terms of products and application techniques.
What Is Melasma?
Often coined the ‘sun moustache’ or ‘pregnancy mask’, melasma is a common skin pigmentation disorder that can appear in various ways. Melasma can appear on the cheekbones, forehead and upper lip in people of all ethnicities. The cause? Medical professionals say that the sun is an important trigger, adding that melasma can be more common in darker skin tones, because of sun exposure as much as genetic predisposition. As darker skin contains more pigment (or more active pigment), issues including melasma can be more common, but those with darker skin types very rarely use sun protection, believing that as their skin does not burn, and therefore, they do not need to use it.
Secondly, the condition is often offset by a hormonal change like starting the oral contraceptive pill, pregnancy or even HRT, which further explains melasma’s nicknames. In this case, if a new medication is a provoking influence, stopping it can resolve melasma, but alas not always. In fact, melasma rarely resolves itself and is notoriously tricky to treat.
Prevention is better than cure, and the importance of high-quality sunscreen should never be underestimated. Almost everyone under-applies sunscreen, but get this: Experts say that sunscreen is by far the most important anti-ageing ingredient we have, provided it is used and applied correctly. Hence, the need for an elegant formula that you actually want to use.
Personally, we prefer sunscreens which utilise physical blocker zinc oxide in treating melasma, so UV is deflected away from the skin like a mirror. It is also highly recommended that you equip yourself with water-resistant SPF for hot weather or outdoor activity. The final consideration is using sunscreen and make-up that contains iron oxide, as we know it blocks visible light which is also a melasma driver.
Medical Grade Skincare
Next up, you should seriously consider medical grade skincare. One option is a cream containing skin-lightening hydroquinone, which is only available on prescription. While considered highly effective, the flipside to this ingredient is that it can be an irritant. In addition, products containing hydroquinone should not be used for extended periods of time. Experts warn that hydroquinone, when used for a long period of time, especially on darker skin, can lead to greyish appearance of the skin called ochronosis.
However, there are still other active ingredients that can claim the success of fairer looking skin. Skin product with azelaic acid, kojic acid, arbutin can be used on all skin types, although they might not be effective for the active stage of melasma.
This is exactly the reason why certain aesthetics clinic treats melasma with a tailored medical-grade skincare system combining multiple ‘actives’ to subdue the over-active pigment cells and eliminate the excess pigment that is already in the skin. Given that problems like this are often an inherent part of you and tend to require a long-term strategy, this approach works brilliantly. When seen regularly, patients are usually advised on more aggressive or gentle applications to suit the seasons and their schedules.
Peels and Lasers
Many skincare professionals swear by chemical peels and laser skin lightening to treat melasma. However, you should be aware that very commonly melasma can be made worse by ‘physical’ treatments like microdermabrasion, laser and chemical peels, especially in inexperienced hands so approach with caution.
A common and effective peeling treatment comes in the form of a chemical treatment called depigmentation peel. This chemical treatment uses azelaic acid and kolic acid in favour of hydroquinone. Expect a slight burning and tightening of the skin and if your skin is sensitive, you might also notice some itchiness, but a hydrating cream will make things more comfortable. There is some ‘downtime’, in that you will notice significant skin shedding as the peel speeds up the cell turnover process.
Laser treatments, on the other hand, can be a different story. IPL and most lasers sometimes used for resistant forms of melasma are contraindicated for those with darker skin types because of the risk of burns or hyperpigmentation being very high.
As with many skin disorders, melasma is a complicated subject with endless variables. Therefore, the best advice (after slathering on your SPF) is to see out a skincare professional to get theirs. Or, of course, embrace your face the way it is.