Monday, December 10, 2007

Dark Spots: Melasma

Melasma, also known as pregnancy mask, or hyperpigmentation, is an extremely common issue for women. An increased level of the hormone estrogen, either caused by pregnancy, a change in hormone levels, or birth control pills, can cause dark patches on the face. Melasma and sun spots are sometimes hard to tell apart, but Melasma generally appears as patches around the mouth, on the apples of the cheeks, on the forehead and around the jawline. Sun spots, or sun damage are generally spots of darker pigment, or large freckles. I personally have a hard time telling the two apart visually.

How to prevent Melasma:
If your estrogen rises, due to pregnancy or taking the pill, there’s a good chance you could develop Melasma. The single best way to prevent it is by staying out of the sun (and tanning booths) completely. The second best way is to wear a good sunscreen at all times - even if you leave the house for only 5 minutes to run an errand. Zinc Oxide based sunscreens are the absolute best for protecting your skin from the sun. Make sure to reapply if you are outdoors for more than a few hours, and reapply after swimming or sweating. Unfortunately, Melasma can happen quickly, and just one day of sun exposure without a good sunscreen can cause it. Once you get Melasma, it’s difficult to get rid of, at least quickly, so protection is by far your most important measure.

How to get rid of Melasma:
If you are pregnant, you don’t want to be doing professional skin care treatments, or using most prescription skin products, nor do you want to use a product with Hydroquinone as an active ingredient. Luckily Zinc Oxide is safe to use while pregnant.

Hydroquinone, a skin lightener, is the most common used ingredient for Melasma, and sun spots. It has elicited some controversy, because a lot of people claim it can be hazardous. Ironically, it can make you more sun-sensitive, so if you are not staying out of the sun, you can make your Melasma worse! I am not sure what to believe about the safety of Hydroquinone, but a lot of reputable skin care companies still use the ingredient. Glycolic Acid, and Tretinoin, or Retinol are also used by themselves, or in combination, to treat Melasma. Kojic acid, Azelaic acid, Licorice extract, Salicylic acid and Vitamin C are also ingredients that can possibly lighten your dark patches.

I have worked in a physicians office in the past and Obaji Nu Derm Skin Care and Photo Facials (Laser) in my opinion did not show great results if any.