Melasma is a common skin problem that is more prevalent in women. The condition causes dark, discolored patches to appear on the skin. Melasma can be due to hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy or from exposure to sun. Hormones stimulate the growth of cells that make brown pigment (melanocytes) and exposure to sunlight stimulates melanin pigments.
Melasma causes patches of discoloration on the skin. The brown or grey-brown patches of melasma appear most often on the cheeks, forehead, nose and chin.
In some women, melasma often disappears on its own after pregnancy or after an affected woman stops taking the contraceptive pills. Skin lightening creams can help in reducing longer lasting melasma. Also, topical steroids may be prescribed to treat melasma. If not cured with these, a person may also undertake other ways of treating this condition. Laser therapy, chemical peels, dermabrasion etc are also effective in removing the darker pigments from the skin and restoring normal skin tone.
Melasma can be cured easily with the application of creams or steroids. The most common melasma therapies include 2% hydroquinone (HQ) creams. Hydroquinone can be found as gels, lotions, or even liquid and is applied on the skin to lighten the skin color. Tretinoin or a corticosteroid drugs are also prescribed as these have also proven to be effective in skin lightning. A medicine, called triple cream, contains 3 medicines (hydroquinone, tretinoin, and a corticosteroid) in 1 cream. Dermatologist may also prescribe azelaic acid or kojic acid for topical application on the skin to help lighten melasma. If the condition doesn’t get better with these creams, treatments also provide laser therapy, chemical peel, microdermabrasion, dermabrasion or a light-based treatment. However, application of sunscreen is extremely vital to treat melasma. It is important to apply sunscreen so that it helps to block penetration of sun light and stimulation of pigment formation.
Melasma is a common disorder found in many people across the world. People with facial skin covered with brown pigments and patches can consult a dermatologist for its treatment.
Appearance of patches on the skin, if caused due to other reasons, like allergy, need to be treated differently. Those patients are not eligible for treatment of melasma. Also, if the pigments disappear on its own, medical assistance is not required.
Possible side effects of melasma treatments include temporary skin irritation. This may happen because of the individual skin type. However, this fades away as the skin adjusts to the medicines. People who use hydroquinone treatment in very high concentrations for prolonged periods are likely to develop a side effect called exogenous ochronosis. In this condition, the skin actually darkens instead of lightening the skin while the bleaching agent is used.
Avoiding exposure to sun, particularly of the face, is the most important factor after the treatment. Melasma is a chronic disorder with periodic ups and downs. It is important to follow the advices of the dermatologist effectively for best results. Using sunscreen lotions or creams and other accessories like hats, sunglasses or protective masks can reduce the exposure of facial skin to sunlight. Even after the pigmentation clears, the patient must continue with the course until its completion. This is called maintenance therapy that helps prevent melasma from returning.
Treatment of melasma is a slow process. It takes months for the patches to fade away and the discoloration to normalize. If the dark or brown pigments occur only on some areas, the treatment may take around eight or nine months to cure. But if it spreads over a wide region, covering major part of the face, then it takes even greater time and continuous treatment to disappear.
Treatment of melasma is a time taking process. The creams and steroids need to be applied for a minimum of eight to twelve months before they start to fade away. So, this incurs a cost for the multiple creams and doctor appointments. And, moreover, laser treatment of melasma is an expensive affair. There is a probable need of 3-4 treatments over 3-6 months for the patients. Roughly, the amount may reach up to Rs 50,000.
The outcome of the treatment is usually permanent if proper care and precautions be taken. Removal of pigmentation does not guarantee its longevity. The patches may again appear if the skin is exposed to severe sunlight or if there be some hormonal imbalance. To prevent such, use of sunscreens and protective masks during long outdoor stays under the sunlight is essential.
Melasma can be treated by alternative means. Home made remedies may be helpful to restore the normal skin color and remove the patches. Lemon juice is a natural skin lightener with its astringent properties. The acidic nature of lemon juice also helps to remove the outer layer of the skin, thereby eliminating a layer of the hyperpigmented skin. Apple acid vinegar, turmeric, onion juice can also help to eliminate the patches on the skin. Aloe vera gel, due to the presence of mucilaginous polysaccharides, can alleviate hyperpigmentation and restore the skin’s original color. Other substances can also be used effectively for treating melasma. Apart from this, use of homeopathic treatment and Ayurveda may also be useful to remove hyperpigmentation of the skin.