What is the true cause of my hormonal pigmentation?
Some call it “the mask of pregnancy”. Others say melasma or chloasma. But it’s all hormonally induced hyperpigmentation, and it shows up as spots or splotches of discoloured skin especially on the cheeks and around the mouth. And, left untreated, they may take ages to fade.
For a woman between the ages of 20 and 50, and especially new mothers, developing these dark sections of skin can be devastating. It seems unsightly and impossible to cover up. It drains your confidence and impacts you socially. You feel like everyone’s staring at this weird, dark “mask” of skin across your cheeks and nose.
But, what most people once thought of as the “pregnancy mask” – because it’s so much more visibly pronounced in women after giving birth – is actually quite common. Up to 70% of people can experience melasma in some form at any point in their lives. And that’s because it’s triggered by fluctuations in hormones.
What causes melasma?
Melasma is a form of hyper pigmentation. There are three types, namely sun-induced hyper pigmentation, post-inflammatory/scarring hyper pigmentation and the internal type, induced by hormones. And, in broad strokes, they are all caused by something that triggers specialised skin cells, called melanocytes, to produce excess amounts of the skin pigment melanin.
Melanin is what gives your skin it’s colour. All skins contain melanin, just in varying amounts. The more melanin in your skin, the darker it appears. But, usually, your skin tone is roughly the same throughout your skin. With hyper pigmentation, some parts of skin produce too much melanin, and you end up with discoloured spots and splotches.
With hormonal pigmentation (melasma) in particular, it’s fluctuations in your hormones that cause the skin to produce excess melanin.
Melanin is your body’s natural UV-defence mechanism. The amount of melanin in your skin is finely tuned to block just enough UV radiation from the sun to help prevent dangerous skin damage and cancer while letting in enough to help your body produce vital vitamin D.
But the problem is that the hormone oestrogen affects your skin’s UV tolerance. Fluctuations in oestrogen (which is a sex hormone and thus very important for reproduction) can play havoc with your body’s melanin production. That’s why melasma occurs: the hormonal changes that come with life stages and events such as fertility, puberty and pregnancy can instruct parts of your skin to start producing too much melanin. Even taking contraceptives changes the balance of hormones in your body, so it can cause melasma, too.
But, though melasma can be stubborn, and you may feel very frustrated by it, the good news is that it is treatable.
Like with any type of hyper pigmentation, avoiding the sun and focusing on sun protection is one of the first and most important steps to treating melasma. And then, naturally, you’ll need to strip away the existing discolored skin through effective home and professional treatments that are designed to treat hyper pigmentation. Laser (the correct Laser is important make sure of this) and mid depth to deep chemical peels. Superficial peels won’t be enough.
But, since the cause is hormonal, you’ll have to treat this underlying cause, too, for the treatment to be fully effective. Some women choose to simply stop taking the contraceptive, for example. But, not all causes are this easily remedied (if you’ve just given birth, for example, there’s no quick fix for the pigment-related changes happening in your body). In cases like these, antioxidant-rich and vitamin-rich products have proven remarkably effective in lessening the appearance of hormonal pigmentation.
It’s also important to be aware of anything that can affect your hormones or trigger new flare-ups. See our other article regarding Melasma – 7 Suprising facts about Melasma
Find out more about these treatments here.
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