Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation typically characterized by brown or gray discoloration of the face. It is commonly found in women with darker skin types, though men and women of all races may be affected, according to the British Association of Dermatologists. While the exact cause of melasma is unknown, the condition is commonly associated with hormone fluctuations triggered by pregnancy, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.
There is no cure for melasma. After giving birth or stopping hormone therapy, the condition may fade on its own. When dealing with persistent brown hormonal spots, however, Dr. Audrey Kunin, author of the “Dermadoctor Skinstruction Manual,” recommends following a regimen of sun protection, exfoliation and bleaching.
Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. When exposed to sunlight, hyperpigmented skin gets darker than surrounding areas. This makes sun protection crucial to the reduction of melasma.
Wear sunscreen throughout the day. According to Dermis, a website associated with the University of Heidelberg, you should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every few hours.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat to further protect your face from harmful UV rays.
Wash and dry your face.
Apply a lotion containing glycolic acid all over your face. According to the “Dermadoctor Skinstruction Manual,” glycolic acid is a mild chemical exfoliant that treats melasma by “removing superficial pigmented skin cells and easing the penetration of bleaching agents.”
Wait 20 minutes, then apply a small amount of 2 percent hydroquinone cream to melasma-affected skin. Hydroquinone is a bleaching agent; over time, it fades hyperpigmentation by stopping melanin production.
Wash hands thoroughly, then apply sunscreen.
Things You'll Need
Glycolic acid lotion
2 percent hydroquinone cream
Glycolic acid lotion is usually available over-the-counter in 5 to 10 percent concentrations, according to Discovery Health. Even weak formulations can cause irritation; to avoid damaging skin, start with a lower concentration and if necessary, increase the strength over time.
Treat dark hormonal spots every day. Some hydroquinone products recommend twice daily applications; read the included instructions to determine proper dosing and use. It can take six months to a year for melasma to improve, says Kunin.
Glycolic acid and hydroquinone can increase sun sensitivity. Wear sunscreen at all times and limit sun exposure.
Long-term hydroquinone use can cause ochronosis, a darkening of the treated area of skin.
Hydroquinone is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals.