If you are noticing patchy skin tone or dark spots, you may be experiencing melasma. It can even look like increased freckles. The frustrating skin condition, which is characterized by discoloration, is said to affect approximately five million Americans, most of whom are women — more specifically, pregnant women. Hence, its nickname: the “pregnancy mask.” And because it is usually triggered by things going on beyond skin deep, it can be tricky to treat. The good news: There are ways to bring back your even tone. Here, is a closer look at the causes of melasma, plus how to cure melasma of the inside out.
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What exactly is melasma?
Melasma is a common skin condition that shows up as dark spots or splotches on the skin. The discoloration can look brown, grey, or even bluish, depending on your skin tone, and may appear in larger patches or look more like freckles. This pigmentation, known as melanin, occurs as your skin responds to environmental stressors, such as ultraviolet rays, blue light, pollution, hormonal stimulation, or harsh skincare ingredients.
Melasma can show up anywhere on the body, particularly in areas exposed to the sun, but it’s most common on the face (cheeks, nose, upper lip), chest, and arms. It typically appears slowly, becoming more prominent over the course of several months. The spots can also fade or darken over time, depending on sun exposure; they often darken in the summer when you spend more outside and lighten in the winter.
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Can anyone experience melasma?
Yes! While melasma is most common in people with darker complexions or those that tan easily, anyone can experience this change in skin tone. Women are also more prone to skin condition; according to the Cleveland Clinic, about 90 percent of the people who get melasma are women while only 10 percent are men. That’s because hormonal changes for any reason, including pregnancy, starting a new birth control pill or thyroid issues, can trigger it.
Why is melasma so common in pregnant women?
You may have heard melasma referred to as the “pregnancy mask,” because it is such a common experience for women who are expecting. In fact, one study found that between 50-70 percent of pregnant women will develop some level of melasma. This is simply because of the hormonal changes; increased estrogen and progesterone levels have been shown to stimulate melanin production. However, it’s important to note that melasma is a superficial concern and will not cause harm to you or your baby. More good news: It typically fades on its own after pregnancy.
How to cure melasma from the inside out:
So, what can you do about those annoying dark spots? First, we want to reiterate that melasma is that it is completely harmless. While it may be frustrating, it isn’t an indicator of deeper health problems. Melasma is not a sign of skin cancer nor is it a condition that will turn into skin cancer. But if you are not sure about discoloration, go ahead and see a dermatologist to check that your skin is healthy. Otherwise, try these tips to even out your skin tone.
1. Apply SPF daily
Okay, this one isn’t technically from the inside out, but it is still worth starting any skincare discussion with a reminder to wear sunscreen. The sun will make melasma worse and more visible, so it is critical that you wear – and reapply – a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher every single day. Those formulated with zinc are especially beneficial, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Balance your hormones
Because melasma is often triggered by hormonal changes, you may want to look into your hormone levels. Did you recently start or change birth control? Have you been noticing other changes like trouble sleeping, lots of stress, or digestion issues? If so, your hormones may be out of balance. You can even request a blood test to confirm this. (If you are pregnant, then the cause of these changes is clear, and there isn’t anything you can do about it.)
Lifestyle changes to balance hormones:
- Manage stress: This can be hard but there’s no doubt that stress shows up on our skin. Higher stress means higher cortisol levels, which, you guessed it, triggers melasma.
- Increase sleep: More sleep will help to counteract the higher cortisol levels triggered by stress. Plus, getting 8+ hours a night will give your skin time to regenerate and heal.
- Increase daily activity: Exercise will help to holistically balance your hormones, reduce inflammation, and reduce overall stress.
Consider going off or changing your contraception
If other lifestyle changes aren’t helping, it might be time to consider switching up your birth control. The pill, the arm implant, and many IUDs all rely on hormones, and because birth control can lead to higher estrogen levels, it is strongly linked to melasma. If your melasma is bothersome or worsening, then this could be the cause. It’s also is very challenging to re-balance hormones when your birth control is specifically meant to shift estrogen levels.
3. Give your liver a helping hand
The liver is our detoxing organ, so good liver function is especially important for internal hormonal health. To support a well-functioning liver, start by drinking more water. You’ll also want to cut back on alcohol. If your liver is constantly prioritizing alcohol, then other toxins and hormones won’t be eliminated efficiently. The next step is to eat a healthy diet full of fatty acids, iron-rich foods, and leafy greens — extra points for fermented foods!
4. Take a skin-boosting supplement
Two of the best supplements for skin health and vitality are vitamin C and vitamin B12. Vitamin C helps your skin produce more collagen and promotes cell regeneration while inhibiting the formation of melanin. Vitamin B12 also promotes collagen formation, and it also supports the production of new skin cells. If you are suffering from stubborn melasma, your doctor may also test you for a vitamin D deficiency, in which case they will suggest the proper amount to take daily.
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While skin discoloration may be frustrating, with the right care you can absolutely figure out how to cure melasma from the inside out. You may even begin to see changes with just a few small lifestyle changes. But, at the end of the day, remember that melasma is a common cosmetic concern and will not cause you any harm.