Melasma is a condition that causes some people to develop patches of discolored skin. Like many other skin conditions, melasma can have a negative impact on self-confidence. Fortunately, there are treatments available to help minimize the symptoms of this common skin disorder.
There are various factors — including skin tone — that can impact the effectiveness of available treatments for melasma. Before receiving any type of skin treatment, it’s important to understand how it might impact you. Here are a few things you should know about melasma, why it develops, and how skin tone may affect treatments.
Loosely translated, melasma means “black spot.” The name is fitting, considering that people with this condition typically have dark-colored patches of skin. Usually, these patches are deep brown or light brown in color. Rarely, they may also look blue-gray. Melasma can develop on the face, neck, and forearms. Unlike moles, melasma patches are flat and not raised.
Though it can be embarrassing, melasma is harmless and is not a precursor to skin cancer or any other dangerous disease. Melasma treatment may help minimize the appearance of discolored skin spots and help you regain self-confidence. Treating melasma is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Any treatment you receive for the condition should be personalized for the best results.
Melasma is often caused by prolonged UV exposure (either from the sun or from tanning beds). It is also a common side effect of pregnancy and is thought to develop in response to rising hormone levels. Other possible causes include genetics (about 48% of people with melasma have a blood relative with the condition), birth control, and certain medications.
Available Melasma Treatments
There are multiple treatment options available for melasma. These treatments do not claim to cure the condition, but they may minimize the appearance of discolored skin spots. Some popular topical medications include azelaic acid, hydroquinone, and tretinoin. For best results, use this combination of ingredients together to combat melasma.
Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid molecule. It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to improve melasma by promoting healthy skin growth. It also neutralizes the free radicals that can cause the skin to appear dull and lifeless.
Hydroquinone is the most popular melasma treatment because of its high success rate illustrated in multiple studies. It is a depigmenting agent that works best in combination with azelaic acid and tretinoin. It’s important to note that hydroquinone use may have some side effects such as mild skin irritation and inflammation.
Finally, tretinoin is commonly recommended as a treatment for melasma because it encourages a high skin cell turnover rate. The topical use of tretinoin can help your body quickly replace old, hyperpigmented skin cells with new cells.
It’s important to note, you should not receive any type of melasma treatment while pregnant. Some of the effects of melasma treatment aren’t completely understood. Consult your medical care provider about your options. After pregnancy, some melasma will go away on its own.
How Skin Tone Impacts Melasma Treatment
Your skin tone can impact how well melasma treatment works for you. Surprisingly, treatments that work on lighter skin may cause melasma to become even more pronounced in people with darker skin. If a topical product causes pronounced skin irritation, that’s a sign the product may be causing more harm than good.
Hydroquinone is a melasma treatment that’s particularly sensitive to skin tone. It’s best to test this ingredient on a small, inconspicuous area of your skin before using it more broadly. If you experience skin irritation or signs of inflammation, discontinue use. Follow the same procedure for any other topical melasma treatment you try.
Even though there are special precautions people with dark skin tones should take when receiving melasma treatment, don’t let that scare you away. Dermatologists frequently treat melasma in people with dark skin tones with great success. You’ll just need to exercise greater caution to ensure the topical products you use work as expected.
You should also know it often takes longer for people with darker skin tones to see results from melasma treatment. So be patient and give your body sufficient time to respond to the topical products you’re using. If you don’t see the results you want after six months, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist or speak to your medical provider.
Tips for Halting Melasma Development
Though there is no known cure for melasma, it is possible for it to go away on its own. The condition may also clear up for a period of time only to return weeks or months later. Even if your darkened skin spots don’t go away on their own, using topical treatments may minimize their appearance. There are also preventative actions you can take regardless of your skin tone, to keep discolored skin spots from getting worse.
If you have melasma, avoid spending too much time in the sun and stay away from tanning beds. You should also get rid of makeup and skincare products that irritate your skin. Whenever possible, use non-scented soaps, moisturizers, and other products on your body. Use gentle hair removal techniques. In short, avoid any actions that may inflame the skin, since inflammation can cause melasma to worsen.
If you’re concerned about how your skin tone may impact your treatments, discuss your worries with an expert. Dermatologists know how to take extra precautions to avoid unwanted side effects. They also know which melasma products are most effective for darker skin tones and can help guide you to a positive treatment outcome.