What is melasma?
Melasma is a very common patchy brown, tan, or blue-gray facial skin discoloration, almost entirely seen in women in the reproductive years. It typically appears on the upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead, and chin of women 20-50 years of age. Although possible, it is uncommon in males. Over 90% of those with melasma are women. It is thought to be primarily related to external sun exposure, external hormones like birth control pills, and internal hormonal changes as seen in pregnancy. Most people with melasma have a history of daily or intermittent sun exposure, although heat is also suspected to be an underlying factor. Melasma is most common among pregnant women, especially those of Latin and Asian descents. People with olive or darker skin, like Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern individuals, have higher incidents of melasma.
An estimated 6 million women are living in the U.S. with melasma and 45-50 million women worldwide live with melasma. Prevention is primarily aimed at facial sun protection and sun avoidance. Treatment requires regular sunscreen application, medications such as 4% hydroquinone and fading creams.
What is the treatment for melasma?
Cosmelan, manufactured by Mesoestetic Laboratories, is designed to treat the pigmentation issues. It has advanced ingredients designed to minimize the melasma. It helps in depigmentation of the skin by lightening the overall skin tone; which reduces the spots, blemishes, sun spots, and freckles.
Melasma may clear spontaneously without treatment. Other times, it may clear with sunscreen usage and sun avoidance. For some people, the discoloration with melasma may disappear following pregnancy or if birth control pills and hormone therapy are discontinued.
In conjunction with home cream applications, in-office treatments include chemical peels (chemical exfoliation), microdermabrasion (mechanical exfoliation), and laser therapy. These additional treatments may be useful for some cases of melasma, although laser still has issues with reproducibility.
Many types and strengths of chemical peels are available for different skin types. The type of peel should be tailored for each individual and selected by the physician. In treating melasma, 30%-70% glycolic acid peels are very common. Various combinations, including a mix of 10% glycolic acid and 2% HQ, can be used to treat melasma.
Microdermabrasion utilizes vacuum suction and an abrasive material like fine diamond chips or aluminum oxide crystals to exfoliate the top layers of the skin. The vacuum pressure is adjusted depending on the sensitivity and tolerance of the skin. Typical microdermabrasion sessions can last anywhere from a few minutes to one hour. Minimal to no recovery time is needed after microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion techniques can improve melasma, but dramatic results are not generally seen or expected after one or two treatments. Multiple treatments in combination with sunscreen and other creams yield best results.
There is no guarantee that melasma will be improved with these procedures. In some cases, if treatments are too harsh or abrasive, melasma can be induced or worsen. Additionally, these procedures are almost always considered cosmetic and may not be covered by medical insurance providers.
Do lasers work for melasma?
Lasers may be used in melasma, but they generally produce only temporary results. Laser therapy is not the primary choice to treat melasma as studies reveal little to no improvement in the hyperpigmentation for most patients. Lasers may actually worsen some types of melasma and should be used with caution. Multiple laser treatments may be necessary to see results, as treatments are most effective when they are repeated.
To ensure that treatment doesn’t fail, people must minimize sun exposure. People who treat their melasma report a better quality of life because they feel better about themselves. As with any treatment, people should consult their physician. Pregnant women or mothers breastfeeding may need to wait to treat melasma. Many melasma creams need to be discontinued in pregnancy and breastfeeding because of possible risks to the developing fetus and newborn. These people may consider cosmetics to temporarily conceal the skin discoloration.