Although melasma on the upper lip can occur in anyone, it typically develops in younger women. In addition, it appears so often during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy that it is often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy.” Because melasma can be embarrassing and hard to hide, it is important to understand what causes the condition and how it can be treated and prevented.
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Melasma can cause brownish gray patches of pigment to develop on the face and body. Besides the upper lip, the spots can also develop on the nose, chin, cheeks, forehead, neck and arms. Melasma most often occurs in women. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology states that only 10 percent of those afflicted with the skin condition are men. In addition, people with darker skin, such as those of Indian, Mediterranean, North African or Asian background, can develop melasma more easily.
Although the cause of melasma is currently not known, it is often triggered by fluctuations of the progesterone and estrogen hormones. Hormone disturbances can occur during pregnancy, when using oral birth control medications and when undergoing hormone replacement therapy due to menopause. In addition, people frequently exposed to the sun, such as those living in tropical climates, tend to develop this skin condition more often.
Melasma often gradually fades by itself, especially after discontinuing oral contraceptives. However, if it does not, a dermatologist can prescribe a cream or ointment to treat the condition. Active ingredients often include hydroquinone, glycolic acid, tretinoin, aselaic acid, kojic acid or corticosteroids. These medications can be used alone or combined with hydroquinone to encourage skin lightening. Besides topical medications, a dermatologist can also perform a microdermabrasion procedure, chemical peel or laser treatment to remedy melasma.
Using sunscreen every day can not only prevent melasma from developing, it can also help keep away wrinkles and other serious life-threatening skin conditions such as cancer. The AAD recommends using a sunscreen that is broad spectrum, which means it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. For optimal protection, it is important to select an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunblock approximately 30 minutes before you go outside.
Although melasma may fade on its own after discontinuing oral contraceptive medications or giving birth, a woman may notice its return if she becomes pregnant again or restarts birth control. To prevent melasma on the upper lip from worsening, avoid the use of irritating cosmetics, facial cleansers, masks or treatments. In addition, follow all your dermatologist’s instructions to avoid side effects such as skin irritation.