So, who gets it?
Melasma (or chloasma) is a very common skin-related complaint and is estimated to affect around six million people in the U.S., 90% of whom are women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And, the the American Pregnancy Association says that as many as 50% are pregnant women may suffer from it as well. While lighter skins can experience melasma, it mainly impacts olive or darker skin tones due to higher activity of the pigment-producing melanocyte cell. Latino, African-American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and those of Mediterranean descent often get the brunt of this skin issue. Add in a blood relative who had melasma and you have a target on your back.
If you have just a couple of random brown spots on your chin, you don’t have melasma; you have post-
inflammatory pigmentation that’s probably the result of a crop of pimples. Melasma is an irregularly-shaped blotch of hyperpigmentation that’s symmetrical. We called it the “butterfly masque” in skin school, but it’s not quite so pretty, fragile, or fleeting. It can range in color from light brown to greyish, dark brown and has a specific pattern, mainly affecting the central facial zone: the chin, upper lip, cheeks, nose, and forehead. Sometimes, it can be just on the cheeks and nose but rarely just the jawline.
What causes it?
Melasma formation has always been understood as being linked to hormones, UV exposure, and genetics. Interestingly enough, melasma runs in families regardless of whether a man or woman inherits the disease. Today, we know a bit more about what is flicking the pigment switch in our skin, but it is complicated and not as simple as simply switching over, to a different birth control pill. Let’s explore these two causes a tad more as there’s not much we can do about the genetic aspect.
Here's what to do for your skin.
Help to stabilize pigment overproduction by using safe but effective peptide and botanically-based skin brightening products with ingredients like oligopeptide 34 & 51, zinc glycinate, niacinamide, vitamin C, algae extracts like laminaria, ascophyllum, palmeria, and phytic acid from rice bran. Kojic acid and azelaic acid are also prescribed by some docs, but can cause skin irritation for some people. Any form of inflammation in the skin will stimulate more pigment, so it’s a delicate balance. Though it’s the only FDA recognized skin-lightening agent, I don’t personally recommend hydroquinone at any percentage — prescribed or over-the-counter — due to its scary side effects like loss of pigment, contact dermatitis and tissue cell death. It’s also a no-no for some MDs if you are pregnant, as are topically-applied retinoids that are sometimes recommended to speed cell turnover and help with penetration of HQ. Read more about it here.