What is Melasma?
Melasma is a hyperpigmentation of the skin that is caused by too much sun exposure. This condition commonly appears on cheeks, chin, forehead, upper lip, nose, upper arms, and other areas that are usually exposed from the sun. Meanwhile, the skin disorder is manifested by brown or deep gray rashes with irregular borders.
Because melasma also occurs during pregnancy, this is sometimes called as “pregnancy mask” which is often manifested by brown or tan patches on the face. In many instances, this problem resolves after a few months or years, although this is not the case for some women who end up having permanent skin discoloration.
Causes of Melasma
This skin disorder happens when there is an increased production of melanin, which gives dark color to the skin’s surface. Aside from prolonged sun exposure, factors that may lead to this problem include use of contraceptive pills, hereditary condition, hormonal fluctuation which happens during pregnancy, and use of certain medications such as anti-malaria drugs and tetracycline.
For some people, melasma resolves on its own especially if the condition is caused by hormonal fluctuations from pregnancy. It may exist from a few months or even lasts for several years for some individuals.
Nowadays, there are countless of non-invasive melasma treatments available for people with this harmless skin disorder. Examples of these procedures include microdermabrasion, laser resurfacing, chemical peels, and skin lightening creams.
Also referred to as power peel, this procedure uses a wand-like device that releases tiny crystals in order to remove the top layers of the skin and promote new tissues to grow as a replacement. Aside from melasma, this treatment can also address other skin problems like mild acne scars, age spots, fine lines, and dull leathery skin. Overall, microdermabrasion is an exfoliation treatment which uses a gentle abrasion to slough off the dead outer layer of the skin to make the complexion smoother and younger looking.
Chemical facial peeling is probably the most popular melasma treatment because it is very simple to perform. By simply applying acid compounds (which may include any of the following: glycolic acid, lactic acid, azelaic acid, trichloroacetic acid, and certain fruit extracts) directly on the face, the top layers of the skin or epidermis are gently peeled away within a few days or weeks.
Types of Melasma Treatments
In many cases, light and medium-depth chemical peels are enough to remove the melasma and other signs of hyperpigmentation. On the other hand, deep peels, which use stronger acids, are only recommended if there is a severe skin discoloration and deep acne scars because of the higher risks of permanent change in skin color, scarring, and prolonged recovery.
In general, fair-skinned individuals are considered a good candidate for chemical peeling because there is a little risk of permanent lightening of the skin. However, the procedure will still provide great results for dark-skinned individuals as long as it is carefully administered by a professional aesthetician.
Laser skin resurfacing can be performed with the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) laser or erbium laser that can precisely remove the skin, layer by layer. While the treatment is more popular for treating fine to deep wrinkles, this is also used to remove melasma and other types of skin discoloration. Using a pulsating beam of light, the treatment can remove the layers of damaged skin and stimulate the body from producing new healthy tissue underneath.
Skin lightening agents
Products that contain hydroquinone are the most common skin lightening agents used on the market. However, there are other brands that use natural plant extracts and organic fruits and vegetables, which are said to have minimal or no side effects and involve shorter recovery.
These products can block the enzymes responsible for melanin production in order to reverse hyperpigmentation. In most cases, the treatment is performed for several weeks to achieve a dramatic result.
Microdermabrasion, also called as power peel, is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure which can rejuvenate the skin by gently removing its top layer or epidermis with the use of an instrument that releases fine “sands” or a diamond-tipped wand. Meanwhile, this treatment is ideal in addressing uneven skin tone, mild scarring, sun damage such as freckles and sun spots, superficial wrinkles, and stretch marks. Aside from gently removing the epidermis, the treatment can also stimulate new skin growth and more production of collagen, a protein naturally found in the skin which makes it appear smooth and supple.
Two Types of Microdermabrasion Treatments
Nowadays, microdermabrasion is performed either with the use of an instrument that releases tiny exfoliating crystals which are then suctioned back into the device, or a diamond-tipped wand that is applied to the face in order to slough off the top layers of the skin.
Regardless of which technique is used, the cosmetic procedure does not involve discomfort and pain even without the use of topical or local anesthesia, although most patients will feel a mild scratching and vibration as the micro-particles remove the skin’s top layers. It is important to note that this procedure is not effective in treating deep scars, keloids or overgrown scar tissue, birthmarks, and severe acne scars.
Before Microdermabrasion Treatment
During the consultation, a doctor will assess the skin’s condition to make sure the treatment is applicable. In some cases, photos are taken before and after the procedure to evaluate the improvements in the complexion.
Ideally, smoking should be stopped at least a week prior to a microdermabrasion treatment as the nicotine can inhibit blood circulation and affect normal healing of the skin. Sunbathing, waxing, and use of certain skin care products—especially those containing acids—should also be avoided as they may compromise the result.
During the Treatment
While the procedure does not involve any pain, some patients have reported slight itchiness or stinging sensation as the tiny crystals slough off the top layers of their skin. But as the treatment progresses, the discomfort resolves on its own as the skin gets used to the abrasive action. Microdermabrasion, as described by most patients, is like having a mild facial massage using a wand-like device.
After the Treatment
After microdermabrasion, it is not uncommon to experience skin dryness and sunburn-like tightness which will last about 24 hours. To minimize these symptoms and help the skin repair itself, moisturizers should be applied regularly. Depending on the type and severity of the skin problem, microdermabrasion is often performed five to 12 times (once a week or twice a month) in order to achieve the best possible result. However, many people can already see a dramatic improvement after the fifth session.
Because the procedure can lead to increased sensitivity to the sun (especially within the first few days), a patient should always wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen with a high SPF when going outdoor to prevent getting sunburn and dark patches. Also, during the first 24 hours of recovery, certain types of makeup should not be applied to the face.
Important Considerations Before Treatment
Because most melasma treatments involve the removal of the skin’s top layers, they often lead to recovery. For this reason, smoking should be stopped several weeks before the procedure because the nicotine can affect blood circulation and normal healing and may compromise the results. For patients who will undergo microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or laser resurfacing, quitting from smoking several weeks before their treatment is very important so their skin can heal normally.
These are the other things which must be avoided before a treatment: sunbathing, waxing, certain skin care products, and aspirin and other blood-thinning drugs (Note: A patient should inform her doctor about the oral medications and skin care products she is using.) Ideally, aspirin and ibuprofen should be avoided two weeks before and after a facial resurfacing treatment.
How to Acheive the Best Results
Each of the melasma treatments responds well to a specific skin type and color; consequently, it is important for people to visit a dermatologist or skin care professional who can recommend the best procedure for their patients. In order to achieve the best result, some treatments have to be performed more than once and may involve “maintenance” usually in the form of sunscreen and certain creams. It is important to note that while treatments for melasma are usually effective in removing the dark patches and other skin blemishes, the problem may reappear due to prolonged sun exposure.
To prevent this problem, it is advisable to wear protective clothing (e.g., wide-brimmed hat), apply protective facial makeup, and/or use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 20 when going outdoor even on cloudy days.Sunscreens that use minerals such as zinc and titanium can provide better protection from the harmful UV rays.
Are There Any Risks Involved?
Because microdermabrasion is a mild procedure, there is little or almost no risk. But still, it is important that it is performed by a qualified staff and the equipment are sterilized to prevent infection and other complications. Despite the safety of this skin rejuvenation treatment, it is not recommended for patients with keratosis, active rosacea or acne, auto-immune disorders, eczema, dermatitis, fragile capillaries, psoriasis, diabetes, and lupus.