Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. However, the increased sunlight can aggravate certain skin conditions. Melasma is a condition that causes the appearance of dark spots on the skin. They can be brown, gray or bluish in color. While the condition does not cause pain or have any adverse effect on a person’s health, many people dislike the appearance of these patchy spots, thinking that it makes them look as though they got a bad tan. To make matters worse, the discolorations tend to appear on areas of the body that are often the most visible. Fortunately, there are ways that you can minimize the appearance of the dark spots while still enjoying fun in the sun this summer.
What Causes Melasma?
Melanocytes are cells that occur in the skin and produce pigmentation. People with darker skin tones have more melanocytes, while fairer-skinned people have fewer. Certain stimuli can cause the melanocytes to start producing more pigment. This is what happens when you tan. It is believed that the patchy dark spots characteristic of this condition occur because of a malfunction in the melanocytes. However, researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes the malfunction. Likely culprits include skin irritation, hormonal changes, and sun exposure. It is possible that some cases of melasma are caused by a combination of multiple factors.
Who Is Most at Risk?
While both male and female patients can develop the condition, men account for only about 10% of diagnosed cases. It is more likely to affect women, particularly those within the age range of 20 to 50. Because hormonal changes are a risk factor for developing the condition, women who are pregnant are more likely to develop the characteristic spotting of the skin, particularly during the third trimester. When it occurs during pregnancy, the condition is also referred to as chloasma. Additionally, women who take medications that cause hormonal changes, such as hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women or birth control pills for those of childbearing age, are more likely to exhibit symptoms. Race/ethnicity is also a risk factor for developing melasma. More melanocytes mean more risk of the malfunctions that cause the dark spotting, so people with olive-toned skin tend to develop the condition more often. This includes people of Middle Eastern, Asian, or Latin descent.
What Can You Do To Manage It?
Symptoms can worsen during the summer months due to more sun exposure. However, there are steps you can take to counteract the effects.
1. Avoid Waxing
Many people like to minimize the amount of hair on their body and face during the summer. However, waxing may irritate the skin and potentially make melasma worse.
2. Choose Skin Care Products Wisely
Pick gentle formulations that don’t cause stinging or burning. These could be signs of skin irritation.
3. Use Sunscreen Vigilantly
Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply it every day, not only when you anticipate being out in the sun. Some types of UV rays can permeate window glass and clouds.
4. Consider Extra Sun Protection
When you have melasma, sunscreen alone may not offer sufficient protection. Stay in the shade as much as possible when outside. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and other protective clothing. If your symptoms persist despite these measures, a dermatologist may be able to help. Call the office or schedule an appointment online.