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Melasma appears in symmetrical blotches across the face.
Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation that is more commonly found in women, especially those with darker skin tones. It's one of the most common skin conditions and according to The International Dermal Institute, affects more than five million Americans. While typical hyperpigmentation or skin discoloration is caused by acne, skin irritations and sun exposure, Melasma has that added factor of hormone fluctuations that makes it more difficult to treat.
Dr. Adam Friedman, dermatology professor at George Washington University, tells Allure that significant contributors to melasma are pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives and other hormonal therapies.
It's easy to differentiate melasma from other forms of pigmentation. Melasma appears as symmetrical blotches or patches on the face and is usually found on the forehead, cheeks, bridge of the nose, upper lip, and chin. While uncommon, it can also appear on parts of the body that are constantly exposed to the sun like the neck and forearms. That's also why more people report that their melasma is worse in the summer than during winter.
First of all, dermatologists will always stress the use of sunscreen. All forms of hyperpigmentation are worsened with prolonged sun exposure, so sunscreen is your first shield. Choose one that has SPF 30 with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Iron oxide also helps block blue light from your phone and computer. Cosmopolitan's top picks for those with melasma are EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44, Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50, and Supergoop Mattescreen Sunscreen SPF 40.
Also read: What is Dermaplaning and How To Do it Safely at Home
Dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein also advises using makeup formulated with iron oxide for extra protection against visible light. Well + Good recommends Dermablend Flawless Creator Liquid Foundation, Jane Iredale Glow Time Full Coverage Mineral BB Cream with SPF 25 and UVA and UVB protection and Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen.
For skincare products that treat hyperpigmentation, look for the following brightening ingredients: vitamin C, azelaic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide and hydroquinone. Cosmopolitan suggests SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum, BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner, Glytone Dark Spot Corrector and Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense. The Ordinary also has their Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%.
Dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu of The Derm Institute tells Marie Claire that in-office, they use chemical peels and low-level lasers to break up hyperpigmentation. At home, aside from vitamin C, kojic acid and the like, retinol is also a must for melasma. Retinoids speed up cell turnover and makes room for new and undamaged skin cells. However, retinol can be irritating so start with slowly. Use it once a week for one week, twice a week for two to three weeks, then every other day once your skin has adjusted to it. Also remember that retinol is best for night use. Try Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Facial Serum, Neostrata Pigment Controller, PCA Skin Intensive Brightening Treatment or Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform.
Take note that as with all skincare products, they take time to work. If you want instant results, Dr. Saya Obayan suggests visiting a dermatologist for a chemical peel with glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid or salicylic acid. You can also inquire about laser treatments like IPL and ngYAG. These are pricey procedures, but if you want dramatic and fast results, go for it.