Melasma occurs when there’s an overproduction of melanin—the skin’s natural pigment and in-built sun protector. Triggered by exposure to UVA rays, brown patches pop up out of nowhere, marking the bridge of your nose, forehead, cheekbones or upper lip with splotches.
It’s hard to predict if and when melasma will affect you—there’s a mysterious hormonal component too, and just because you didn’t have it in your twenties doesn’t mean it won’t inexplicably appear in your thirties. Your best bet, say Alyssa Verdeschi and Melissa Nardone, two skin therapists at New York’s Heyday, is prevention.
“Your rockstar ingredient is going to be zinc oxide, a ‘physical’ sunscreen which literally reflects the sun, says Alyssa Verdeschi. “I would also suggest wearing a hat and keeping the affected area in the shade as much as possible.”
Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV light and convert its energy to heat, physical sunscreens form a shield over the skin that reflects and scatters the sun’s rays. The more barriers you can put between the sun and your face, the better.
But what if you already have a few stubborn spots of melasma, or any form of hyperpigmentation for that matter? First, wear a good sunscreen every day, all year round with no exceptions, and reapply every two hours if you’re going to be outdoors.
Next, a chemical exfoliant can help lighten and brighten dark patches. “Lactic acid has been known to dramatically reduce the appearance of sun damage and melasma,” says Verdeschi. “Doing a chemical peel at least once a month or using a product that contains lactic acid once a week are just a few potential things you can do.” Nardone adds that, “Retinoids, laser, and certain light therapies—not red, which can worsen melasma—can help treat the area of concern.”
Dermatological treatments can be costly though, so your best line of defense is to avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. Be sure to snag a sun lounger with an umbrella on your next beach vacation.