Skin Conditions | August 18, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Melasma, also called chloasma, is a condition in which brown, discoloured patches appear on the skin. The patches are usually located on the cheeks, upper lip, between the brows or on the forehead. It is common in pregnancy—often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy” as the discolouration can be symmetrical over the face. Women in general are more susceptible to melisma compared to males—roughly 90% of people with this condition are women. Most people who are affected by melasma tend to have a more olive or dark complexion. Unfortunately, melasma is a difficult form of pigmentation to treat…but before you invest in expensive creams and treatments there are some safe and effective natural products on the market.
Melasma is thought to be caused by the stimulation of melanocytes (the cells in the upper layer of the skin that produce a pigment called melanin). This can occur due to two major reasons:
Oestrogen—either from pregnancy, medications such as the oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy or from normal circulating oestrogens. This is why melasma is more common in females and pregnant women.
Sun exposure—UV radiation is a key factor that exacerbates melasma as it affects the cells that control pigment. Melasma often appears during summer or a holiday where there has been significant sun exposure.
Other factors such as stress and thyroid disorders have also been implicated in causing dark skin patches in melasma.
Wearing a wide brimmed hat when outdoors will protect the delicate skin on the face from harsh sunlight and heat. It provides an extra shield on top of sunscreen. Choose a wide brimmed hat for better protection.
Wearing sunscreen is one of the most important components in preventing and controlling skin discolouration.
It’s important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every time you step outdoors. Applying sunscreen on your face and neck every morning is a good habit to get in to for daily maintenance. Reapply throughout the day if needed, especially if swimming and even on cloudy days. Selecting a more natural sunscreen will reduce the amount of chemicals that you are applying to your skin, so look products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients with little to no excipients. Selecting an SPF (sun protective factor) of 30 or over means you’re getting a high level of protection.
If your medications are resulting in melasma it’s a good idea to get a review of your current medications by your doctor. There may be other alternatives to such medications, especially for hormonal balancing.
Certain nutrients are crucial for healthy skin. Eat foods rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc.
This can be obtained from eating a range of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and meats. Omega-3 foods can help with dry and damaged skin and can be found in fresh fish, flaxseed oil, cod liver oil and walnuts. Eating foods high in fibre and consuming Brassica family vegetables such as brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and cauliflower may help in the body’s clearance of “extra” oestrogens.
Rich in proanthocyanidin, a powerful antioxidant, grape seed extract has been found to significantly improve melasma in a small long-term study. After 6 months, the participants experienced a reduction in their melanin-index, which resulted in a significant decrease in their pigmentation. The researchers noted that grape seed extract is safe and useful in improving melasma and may prevent worsening during the summer months if taken 5 months prior. Although no studies have been done on its topical application in melasma, it may prove beneficial due to its strong antioxidant activities.
Obtained from the bark of the French maritime pine, pycnogenol is a popular choice for treating pigmentation. It has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and contain many constituents such as procyanidins and cinnamic acids which have been proven to be beneficial for melasma. When taken orally, pycnogenol has been found to reduce melasma severity, with an effective rate of 80%. To achieve this, participants in the study took 75mg of pycnogenol for 30 days
Vitamin C is a naturally occurring antioxidant which inhibits melanin formation. When manufactured in a cream it is often listed as ascorbic acid. A study which compared 5% ascorbic acid to 4% hydroquinone in 16 females with melasma found improvements by 62.5% and 93% retrospectively. However, side effects were high in the hydroquinone group (68.7%), compared to 6.2% in those treated with ascorbic acid.
Further studies have found that when combined with vitamin E, ascorbic acid creams are more effective in reducing melasma and pigmented contact dermatitis lesions. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps to increase antioxidant activity of the skin and stops damage to the melanocytes or pigment producing cells.
There are variety of extract from plants that have proven to reduce pigmentation on the skin. Such extracts include glabridin from licorice, aloesin from aloe vera and arbutin from bearberry. These agents target the key regulatory steps in melanin synthesis by reducing inflammation and providing skin protection. They offer safe alternatives to other prescription medications with little side-effects.
Although neither of these products have proven efficacy in melasma they have been traditionally used as skin brightening substances. Lemon juice is nature’s natural lightener and may help to alleviate dark patches on the skin. It can help to naturally remove the upper layers of skin, thus removing layers of damaged skin.
The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar makes it a natural lightening agent. It also helps to kill bacteria on the skin. Apply diluted lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the skin with a cotton ball after cleansing and moisturise afterwoods.
Yamakoshi J, et al. Oral intake of proanthocyanidin-rich extract from grape seeds improves chloasma. Phytother Res. 2004 Nov;18(11):895-9
Sarkar R, et al. Cosmeceuticals for hyperpigmentation: what is available? J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013 Jan;6(1):4-11
Ni Z, Mu Y, Gulati O. Treatment of melasma with pycnogenol. Phytother Res. 2002 Sep;16(6):567-71