You may not realize it, but the skin is the body’s largest organ. There are three layers to your skin: the outer layer called the epidermis, the middle dermis, and the subcutis. Altogether, the skin makes up about one-seventh of your entire body weight.
The skin can be afflicted with all kinds of injuries and illnesses, just like your heart, kidneys, or any other organ in the body. One of the most common skin disorders is melasma, a pigmentation condition that causes darker patches on the face, neck, arms, and hands. The majority of melasma cases occur in women. While not physically harmful, the condition can change your appearance.
What causes melasma? Are some women more prone to this disorder? Can men get the disease, too? How is melasma treated? We have answers to help you understand melasma, a condition that can affect up to 50% of women at some time in their lives.
What Causes Melasma?
We are not yet sure what triggers melasma to occur in our bodies, with the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) stating that “more research is needed to fully answer this question.”
While we may not know the exact cause, we do know where melasma originates. Your epidermis has cells called melanocytes that react to the sun by producing and storing dark skin pigmentation known as melanin. Melasma occurs when the skin triggers a release of accumulated melanin, which causes the darker patches known as melasma to develop.
Although not confirmed, other conditions and lifestyle factors may put individuals at a higher risk of developing melasma. These include:
- Medications that increase light sensitivity
- Endocrine system disorders
- Estrogen treatment
- Hepatic illnesses of the blood
- Genetics and family history
- LED screens from your cell phone, TV, or other digital devices
- Hormonal increases in pregnant women
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Oral contraceptives
- Tanning beds
- Thyroid disease
While these contributing factors may not always cause melasma, they do increase your risk of developing the condition and can often make it worse. Aside from lifestyle factors, we know that some people naturally have a higher predisposition for developing melasma.
Individuals with an increased risk of melasma include those who are:
- Between 20 and 40
- Darker skin tones
- History of the condition in their family
Melasma seems to occur most frequently in women and men with darker skin. Although pregnant women more frequently develop the disease, up to 10% of men also are afflicted with melasma.
What Are the Symptoms of Melasma?
Melasma causes spots that can be light or dark brown, bluish, or even resemble freckles. They can inflame and become red in six primary areas on the skin:
- Brachial (melasma appears on the shoulders or arms)
- Centrofacial (spots occur on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and upper lip)
- Lateral Cheek Pattern (both sides of the face)
- Malar (cheeks and nose)
- Mandibular (jawline)
- Neck (common among those ages 50 and above)
Keep in mind that melasma is not painful and does not indicate skin cancer. However, sudden changes to your appearance can be alarming, which is why many people seek treatment when spots first appear.
Is Melasma Permanent?
Melasma is not always permanent. It may even go away on its own in a few months, which is what commonly happens with pregnant women when their hormone levels drop after giving birth.
However, once the condition manifests, it can become chronic, lasting three months or longer. Some people have the condition for years, while others have it only during pregnancy. Since we don’t know the exact cause of melasma, it’s difficult to know what you can expect from the condition. Everyone is different. However, if you develop the condition, you should avoid any of the activities and medications that can trigger melasma or make it worse.
How Do Doctors Treat Melasma?
A dermatologist will diagnose and prescribe medications that can help lessen the appearance of melasma.
Below we’ll go over several of the common treatments used to lessen the symptoms of this condition and how they can promote healthy skin while lowering the risk of melasma recurring.
Ascorbic acid (in the form of vitamin C supplements) is a natural and effective way to treat your melasma from the inside out. Ascorbic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor, which is the enzyme the body uses to produce melanin. Ascorbic acid also protects the skin from the sun, promoting healing and reducing inflammation while reducing sun damage.
Also known as HQ, hydroquinone is one of the more popular pigment treatments that, like ascorbic acid, lessen the conversion of tyrosine to melanin in the skin. HQ affects only the cells with active tyrosine, which are the cells that produce the pigment changes known as melasma. HQ is often combined with other treatments to help with hyperpigmentation or dark spots on your skin.
Kojic acid is produced from organic precursors like mushrooms and soy, and is also a by-product of fermented rice wine and soy sauce. Like ascorbic acid and HQ, kojic acid affects tyrosine conversion within the skin. However, the supplement is healthy for you beyond its ability to treat melasma, helping with age spots, sun damage, and scarring.
Tretinoin (Retin-A) is widely used to treat melasma. Studies as far back as 1993 showed its effectiveness when used once a day on melasma skin spots. For decades the compound has also been very effective in treating acne. Tretinoin is a naturally occurring vitamin A compound that works by increasing your cell turnover rate, facilitating the replacement of old skin with new cells. If you have melasma, it means that the new, unblemished skin cells will replace the hyper-pigmented cells, clearing away darkened patches.
How Can a Compounding Pharmacy Help My Melasma?
Working alongside a dermatologist is only half the equation to resolving your melasma. A compound pharmacy offers personalized skin care treatment, creating unique formulas specially tailored to treat your condition.
At WeCare Pharmacy, we combine the most effective ingredients on the market to create an individualized skin therapy that can quickly eliminate melasma brown spots, providing you the relief you need when you need it. We can also eliminate the need to purchase multiple medications at a higher cost by combining these compounds into a single treatment.
WeCare Pharmacy offers our patients a compounded dermatologic solution for better skin care. Talk with your doctor about taking the next step to finding a solution that works with a pharmacy that can help.