Melasma is a cosmetic skin condition seen mainly in females (men can also get melasma). The causes are a combination of genetic and hormonal influences, with several triggers that can aggravate the condition.
We will discuss the 5 main causes of melasma.
While melasma is not life-threating, it presents as a very common aesthetic skin condition especially in Hispanic, Asian, Indian, African & mixed-race women. Melasma often shows up during pregnancy (called the ‘mask of pregnancy’ or chloasma). This is more likely to happen in persons already genetically predisposed to getting melasma. Melasma, sadly, can also happen spontaneously in persons with no family history of the condition.
The 5 main causes of melasma:
1. Hormones – birth control pills and pregnancy hormones are key culprits. They affect the cells that produce melanin, sending them into over-production mode of excessive pigment. This also explains why the overall skin color tends to darken during pregnancy. Persons on contraceptive pills and hormone replacement treatment are also at increased risk.
2. Sunlight – the pigment cells are highly susceptible to UV light. Under the influence of hormones, the pigment cells in the area of melasma tend to become more sensitive to sunlight and the skin in the area will darken. The clusters of pigment cells in the melasma areas tend to be more sensitive to UV light when compared with other regions of the skin where the cells are not as reactive. Hence the contrast in skin colors between the more sensitive cells and the less reactive ones.
3. Heat, infrared (IR) light, blue light, and visible light – Your melasma-sensitive cells are not just activated by sunlight. You also have to consider your exposure to heat, IR light and visible light. Melasma patients who work as chefs in hot kitchens will often find it harder to get melasma under control.
You also need to monitor your exposure to light from your computer and background fluorescent lighting. These can all be worsening your melasma pigmentation. This is called “Blue Light” or High Energy Visible Light (HEVL). Read more here.
4. External skin inflammation – Irritating skin chemicals, harsh skin care products, and waxing can actually worsen your melasma. Pigment cells, especially on darker skin tends tends to overreact to irritants and they protect themselves with melanin. Melanin is actually a defense mechanism that protects the skin from oxidative damage.
The good news is that mandelic acid has a much lower potential for skin irritation in melasma patients of all skin colors and is our #1 ingredient in our anti-melasma skin protocols. Aesthetic treatments such as lasers and chemical peels can also aggravate melasma. Ensure that your clinic uses melasma-safe peels and lasers. All Melanopeel® trained physicians are expertly trained in cosmetic peels for improving melasma.
5. Internal skin inflammation – Your diet is a potential cause of internal inflammation that can affect your skin. Diets high in sugar and estrogenic soy are purported to be sources of skin inflammation. What is recommended is a diet higher in anti inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and plant-based antioxidant fruits and vegetables. Glutathione is a natural internal skin-lightener that your own body produces.
Foods that boost your glutathione include cruciferous vegetables such a broccoli & bok choy, and minerals like selenium found in brazil nuts. Your liver function and vitamin B12 deficiency can also be a possible contributor. Remember that your liver detoxifies your body and processes excess hormones, therefore a healthy diet that includes reducing alcohol consumption helps with maintaining good overall skin health.
Now that you are more in tuned with your skin, with a clearer understanding of melasma, you should also know that once melasma is present, the condition is there with you for life.
Melasma has no cure, only treatments to improve and lighten your skin discoloration. But don’t despair!