This article is a must if you have melasma. I’m going to be giving you dermatologist tips and things that you need to know if you have melasma.
Melasma is actually a disease of hyperpigmentation in which you have dark, brown patches with angulated borders, most often on the cheeks. But it can happen anywhere on the face and sometimes on the neck.
You probably are not aware that melasma is aggravated by sun exposure, but there are a lot of other things that contribute to this condition.
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The first is heat. While melasma is a disease of hyperpigmentation, another component of melasma is dilated blood vessels in the skin and some underlying redness. Heat exposure actually worsens the dilation of the blood vessels that contributes to melasma.
For people who go through melasma treatment, their melasma maybe gets a little bit better and then later on it comes back. Heat exposure may actually be one thing that triggered it. Heat can come from lamps that are overhead, it can also come from your blow dryers, if you work in a kitchen or you cook a lot over steam. All these certainly can lead to a lot of dilation of blood vessels and redness.
If you go into saunas or steam rooms or you have one of those facial steaming devices, these two all can worsen vasodilation in the skin, which contributes to the underlying redness component that drives in melasma.
Heat also causes some irritation on the skin and that irritation can increase the activity of the melanocytes which are the cell on your skin that makes pigment and lead to the darkness and discoloration you are trying to avoid.
Those are some common triggers.
If you blow-dry your hair, try and direct the air away from your skin, away from your face as best you’re able or just stop using hair dryers in general.
If you work in a kitchen setting or you’re doing a lot of cooking, put some ice chips in your mouth while you’re doing these things that expose you to heat, because that will help lower your core body temperature and combat the drive for vasodilation in the skin.
I don’t recommend ice rollers because, depending on the temperature that you’re applying the skin, putting cold things right up against the skin can be bad and cause irritation and inflammation.
But putting ice chips in your mouth just under your tongue and letting them slowly dissolve is a better way to help in modifying the core body temperature while you’re in the presence of heat to reduce that redness. This is also a good tip if you have rosacea and your face gets really red when you get hot or overheated.
Or you can sip on ice-cold water. Speaking of heat, if you are like me and you love your hot beverages, coffee included, a steam from the hot beverage can worsen your vasodilation in the skin. Switching to iced coffee is an option. Likewise hot soups can lead to more redness.
You probably are already aware of the fact that ultraviolet radiation from the Sun is a major driving force for melasma. It leads to increased activity of melanocytes that make pigment in the skin.
Protecting your skin from ultraviolet radiation is so important. You need to be wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Everybody associates UV exposure with a sunburn, but we don’t typically receive sunburn doses all year, all the time, but our skin is being exposed to ultraviolet radiation at different wavelengths that don’t necessarily burn the skin, but contribute to a lot of skin problems, including melasma.
The part of the Sun that contributes to melasma in terms of UV is also UVA. That’s what actually comes in through window glass. If you sit in an office by a window, not only do you have the UVA coming in, but it tends to get heat, so you have heat on your skin as well.
That combination of the UVA coming in and the heat can worsen your melasma and be a trigger for you.
I want to underscore to you that ultraviolet radiation is something that you don’t see. It’s not the same as visible light that illuminates our world that we see with our eyes. You may not actually be super aware of the fact that you are being exposed to it.
Like I said, it comes in through the window glass. It comes through clouds. Even on a cloudy day you have to be aware of it. It’s scattered and reflected off of surfaces, including snow. If you ski, you’re already at altitude with a higher exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and it’s getting reflected and scattered and intensified from the snow.
Wearing sunscreen is a really important part. You got to do it all year-round and my rule of thumb is to just make sure you apply it three times a day. All sunscreen needs to be reapplied because it rubs off and you start losing that protection.
Don’t just rely on sunscreen alone, wear some protective hat while you’re outside.
In the case of melasma, sometimes a game-changer is a face shield. Some people are really uncomfortable wearing it and it’s not the most fashionable thing to wear. But a situation where you may feel more comfortable or more inclined to wear a face shield is if you just paid for an expensive procedure to treat your melasma and you want to protect your investment and not have your melasma come back.
Wearing one of these at least during your day to day commute or in the car can really help cut down on that UV exposure. There are face shields that don’t make your face hot and sweaty. They are really breathable. The material is super lightweight and it covers your nose and it actually sits right up against the lower part of your orbital bone, so you get pretty good coverage. They also cover your neck as well.
We’ve talked about heat, we’ve talked about ultraviolet radiation. The third thing is visible light.
The wavelengths of blue light are referred to as pro-pigmenting. People aren’t aware of this, but a certain blue light that is emitted from our devices and overhead lights and that comes from the Sun, can drive hyperpigmentation, including melasma.
This is relevant to people with melasma because it is a disease of hyperpigmentation.
What’s the best sunscreen to protect your skin if you have melasma?
It’s going to be a mineral sunscreen that has large particle zinc oxide and is tinted.
The reason for that is that large particle zinc oxide will protect you against UVB and UVA really well – all wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation that damage the skin.
The other reason is that the tint includes an ingredient called iron oxides. They are inactive ingredients in tinted sunscreens that have been shown to protect against pro pigmenting wavelengths of visible light.
They’re not going to be listed as the active ingredient but, you’ll see them listed as iron oxides. They are present in 99.9% of tinted sunscreens. That’s why I recommend a tinted mineral sunscreen.
The last reason for choosing a mineral sunscreen is that mineral sunscreens tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens.
If you’re not familiar with the difference between a mineral sunscreen and a chemical sunscreen is that a mineral sunscreen is one that has either zinc or a combination of zinc and titanium dioxide or sometimes titanium dioxide by itself.
Those are mineral sunscreens and they tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens, which have filters that absorb ultraviolet radiation and these filters include things like oxybenzone.
For many people, those filters while they do offer a decent protection against ultraviolet radiation, they can be irritating. The formulations of the sunscreen overall can be very irritating and that irritation can actually worsen melasma.
I already alluded to this next point when I was talking about how chemical sunscreens can be irritating, but skincare products in general can be very irritating and that’s something you have to be aware of.
Whenever there’s any hint of irritation on your skin, irritation equates to inflammation, which leads to upregulation of melanocyte activity and more pigmentation.
You have to be really careful to not overdo it with your skin care product usage. Minimal is best. Just keep it simple, focused on sunscreen and finding a good sunscreen.
You’ll find a lot of products out there that make claims to improve hyperpigmentation and while they cant help, they do come with a risk of irritation from those different ingredients.
It’s hard to predict if something’s gonna be irritating to you, so your best bet is to just keep it simple from the start.
I already mentioned that chemical sunscreens can be very irritating but another common ingredient in skin care products that not only is irritating but also directly causes vasodilation is the presence of fragrance.
Fragrance itself can cause vasodilation and some fragrance ingredients actually will interact with ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and cause what’s called a photo dermatitis, which definitely will worsen your melasma.
So keep it simple with the skincare products and that also includes makeup.
Makeup is something that can either be a friend or foe.
A lot of makeup has added fragrance and can be irritating and drying. However, certain foundations, concealers as well as powders can actually be helpful because they are essentially giving you some additional protection against those pro pigmenting wavelengths of visible light because they do have iron oxides in them.
A lot of makeup also has some mineral SPF to it. A brand that I recommend if you’re coping with melasma that can really help not only in camouflaging it, but in protecting it, is Dermablend. It’s free of added fragrance, mineral only, very low risk of irritation. All their makeup and cosmetics come with SPF.
Lastly something that you may not be aware of is aviator sunglasses. These are a very common trigger for melasma as well as reason for recurrence and melasma.
It’s important to protect your eyes from the Sun by wearing sunglasses, ideally sunglasses that wrap around. However, aviator sunglasses are actually the worst choice, especially if you have melasma or any other skin condition with hyperpigmentation.
Because the metal frames actually scatter and reflect ultraviolet radiation that obviously can increase melanocyte activity but they also conduct heat to your skin.
We see a lot of cases of hyperpigmentation on the upper half of the cheeks where the sunglasses are hitting. So check your sunglasses. Aviators are a common offender but other sunglasses that have metal rims should also be avoided.
They conduct heat, they scatter and reflect ultraviolet radiation and those pro pigmenting wavelengths of visible light.
That’s something you need to be aware of. Switch to nonmetal frames. They’re cool but they can definitely cause hyperpigmentation on your cheeks or around your eyes.
Those are my tips fir melasma. I hope found them helpful, maybe some things that you didn’t know or weren’t aware of that can help you in preventing recurrences if you’ve had good success with certain treatments.
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Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.