Melasma is a common, but challenging skin condition that impacts millions of people every year, to a certain degree. If you’re struggling with melasma or brown spots, you will be happy to know there are a number of treatments that can greatly lessen their appearance.
Melasma refers to a skin condition in which a patch of skin on the face, chest, neck or arms develops a patch of brown or gray skin on its surface. Skin darkens when melanin, a skin pigment, is produced in response to UV light or other factors. This sort of discoloration is usually caused by sun damage, so it follows that the highest risk areas for melasma are those that are constantly exposed to sunlight. The causes of melasma beyond sunlight are not well-understood, but it is more common in women. Pregnant women and women who are undergoing life events that trigger hormonal shifts like menopause are more likely to develop melasma. Hormones seem to play a factor in when melasma occurs, but it isn’t the only factor. If you are prone to develop melasma, you might find that irritants and skincare products can cause melasma to worsen. People are genetically predisposed to melasma. Those of us who have darker skin are more likely to develop melasma. This includes people of North African, Hispanic and Asian descent.
Melasma isn’t the only condition where skin pigmentation is affected. Freckles, age-spots and other highly concentrated areas of melanin can resemble melasma and be caused by sun damage and hormonal shifts as well. When it comes down to treating melasma and other pigmentation issues, the methods for cosmetic treatment are fairly universal. But it’s still important to have a dermatologist assess your condition so that you can get effective and thorough care. Preventing melasma and pigmented spots is difficult, because it is determined by hormonal and genetic factors. The key to preventing melasma is avoiding sun exposure. Wear sunscreen on your face at all times, even in the winter. When out in the sunlight, wear a wide-brimmed hat or other protective clothing to keep your skin safe.
A chemical peel is a versatile treatment for a variety of skin conditions that crop up on the face. Chemical peels use a fairly strong chemical to damage the top layers of the skin to encourage new and healthy growth in its place. It’s applied to your skin much like a facial, and the chemical used is generally salicylic or glycolic acid. Soon after your chemical peel, your skin will develop what looks like a sunburn, and skin will start to peel and flake off. A chemical peel is a good option for melasma because melasma and other discolorations don’t generally penetrate the skin very deeply.
Light therapy has been used by dermatologists for a number of years to treat discoloration and balance out melanin in the skin. While light therapy continues to be used on melasma, laser therapy is also an encouraging way to reduce the visual symptoms of pigmented spots. Much like with a chemical peel, lasers and light treatments may cause skin to temporarily redden, develop crusts and flake off.
The first course of action to treat melasma is often topical or oral medications. Hydroquinone is a gel, lotion, or ointment that is applied directly to the darkened skin. It works to lighten the skin, and is generally very effective against melasma. While hydroquinone is available over the counter, your dermatologist can prescribe much stronger formulas of the drug to improve your results. Other, albeit less common, topical drugs for treating melasma include azelaic or kojic acids. Finally, if these pigmentation treatments are not effective on their own, your dermatologist may prescribe tretinoin or a corticosteroid. These medications can provide supplemental lightening when used in addition to hydroquinone. Sometimes, a triple medication containing both tretinoin, corticosteroids and hydroquinone is used on more severe melasma.
Melasma and other brown spots are cosmetic conditions that require a dermatologist’s help. If you’re looking to lighten melasma or other brown spots, reach out to the doctors you can trust at Northeast Dermatology Associates.
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