Have you ever heard the term “the mask of pregnancy?” While, it sounds like an Edgar Allan Poe story, it’s actually a common condition called melasma. Many women get melasma, a skin problem characterized by brown to grey-brown patches on the face and other parts of the body that get lots of sun. The condition is far more common in women, and it often accompanies pregnancy. Because of this connection it is casually known as the mask of pregnancy.
Who gets Melasma?
Melasma is mostly a female issue. Only 10% of those who get the condition are men. It tends to affect people with darker skin tones and there seems to be a genetic marker involved.
Is Melasma hereditary?
If you’ve had a blood relative with melasma, you’re far more likely to get it.
What causes Melasma?
With skin conditions such as melasma and rosacea it can be very difficult to pinpoint a direct cause/effect relationship. Melasma is likely the result of the melanocytes — the skin cells responsible for pigment — overproducing color. That’s why it is believed that people who already have more pigment in their skin are more prone to melasma because their melanocytes are more active than people with fair skin.
There are certain triggers for the dark facial pigmentation of melasma:
- Hormonal changes — Pregnant women have extreme changes in hormones. This is thought to trigger development of melasma. In a similar fashion, birth control pills and hormone replacement medicines can trigger the condition.
- Sun exposure — The ultraviolet light from the sun triggers the melanocytes in the exposed skin to produce pigment as a safety mechanism. This is why human skin tans. Once a person with melasma is exposed to some sun, an area that has faded will often become darker again. Because of this, more cases of melasma occur during the summer.
- Cosmetics — If a certain cosmetic irritates the skin it can worsen the symptoms of melasma.
Signs of Melasma
While melasma isn’t health threatening, its visual impact is certainly unwelcome. Melasma shows itself in brown or grey-brown patches on the skin’s surface.
These are the most common areas:
- Above the upper lip
- Bridge of the nose
How we treat Melasma
Melasma often fades on its own, especially if the patient protects herself from sun exposure. Other triggers such as hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy resolve themselves after delivery or the trigger is removed. If birth control pills are the culprit, the woman may be able to simply change the brand or pill hormone levels.
But if your melasma persists, we put our laser and broadband light treatments to work. We use Broadband Light, Q-Switched YAG lasers, Thulium Lasers, and Ruby Lasers to improve the skin.
To keep you comfortable, we apply a lidocaine-based topical cream prior to the laser treatment. Then we simply target the laser on the outbreak areas. There will be redness for a day or two, and treated areas frequently go through a period of sloughing as healthy skin replaces damaged skin. Moisturizer is important to keep your skin hydrated. Your redness should go away, unless you trigger its return with unprotected sun exposure.
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