Tips and Tricks for Dealing with Melasma
Written By: Lauren Paiva
My whole life, I’ve tanned easily. My Mediterannean bloodline made it so that I rarely burn, and a few hours at the beach usually results in an even, bronze tan that my fair-skinned friends work all summer to achieve. The sun and I were good friends. At least we were.
That relationship changed in 2016, when I experienced my very first melasma flare up. I was on a beach vacation in Florida with my sister. At the end of a particularly long day in the sun, I showered off the sand, looked at myself in the mirror, and found a Mario Brother staring back at me. I had sprouted a full on skin mustache—a dark shadow had formed across my upper lip. I wiped it at furiously with makeup remover, thinking I had (somehow? inexplicably?) gotten some dark makeup on my face, despite not having worn makeup all day.
When that didn’t work, I spent an intense few hours in a Google black hole and diagnosed myself with melasma—a fairly common skin condition that I have never heard of. It’s a form of hyperpigmentation that’s triggered by sun exposure, light damage from our computers, and pregnancy. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s a condition that occurs when the skin starts producing too much melatonin, resulting in brownish-gray patches on the upper lip, cheeks, and forehead.
The moment I returned from vacation, I walked right off the plane and straight to the nearest Sephora, looking for a skincare treatment that would rid me of my faux mustache. Alas, I walked out with a $50 serum that did...absolutely nothing. I made an appointment with my dermatologist, who sent me on a way with a prescription for hydroquinone, a cream that lightens the affected area of the skin.
While this treatment did do the trick, it took weeks for the melasma to completely fade. Ever since, I have been religious about warding against another such occurrence, which is much harder in the summer months. One more thing to consider: if you take hormonal birth control, the estrogen and progesterone in contraceptives are thought to stimulate melanocytes (the cells responsible for creating melatonin). Since the only thing less desirable than a dark patch on my face is pregnancy, taking myself off the pill was a no-go for me (but talk to your doctor if this feels like an option for you).
So I’m mitigating the risk of a flare up in other ways. I invested in a stylish wide-brimmed hat for beach and pool days (and have committed to wearing a cute baseball hat when out running errands in the sun). I religiously apply SPF 30 to my entire face (something we should all be doing no matter what season it is), but I’ve also started doubling down on protection when it comes to the upper lip area—zinc oxide creates a protective barrier between your skin and the sun.
If I do experience a particularly bad flare up, I keep a few drugstore brightening products on hand (because the dermatologist is expensive and waiting for an appointment can take forever). Bonus: these options tend to be a lot more affordable than prescription strength hydroquinone, which often is not covered by insurance.
One last trick? Exfoliating on the reg can help fade away those dark spots over time. Stay safe under those rays!