Although many adults are now aware of the ways that the sun and UV exposure can wreak havoc on the skin, this was not always the case for many of us.
In fact, a majority of patients with photo damage are trying to repair the effects of too much sun exposure as children or teenagers.
And for some individuals, too much sun exposure can mean one bad burn years earlier that’s resulted in dark patches on the forehead, cheeks, and upper lip.
This skin condition is known as melasma, and your risk for it can increase due to a variety of factors.
So, can a bad sunburn really ruin your face? Here’s what you need to know about the causes, prevention, and treatment of melasma.
What Is Melasma?
Melasma is often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy” because hormonal changes that occur during gestation are usually responsible for this form of hyperpigmentation on the skin.
More specifically, increased estrogen levels can make melanocytes, the skin cells that produce pigment, hypersensitive and result in blotchy dark areas on the face.
What Causes Melasma?
Because of its associated hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy is a leading factor in the development of melasma.
However, it can also be the result of oral contraceptive use, and women of childbearing age are most at risk for this skin condition.
Additionally, a severe sunburn that blisters or doesn’t heal properly can contribute to the formation of dark patches and an uneven complexion.
Lastly, patients with fairer skin are more prone to melasma, especially if they have experienced severe sunburns, been pregnant, or use(d) oral contraceptives.
How to Prevent Melasma?
While discontinuing oral contraceptives may not be an option for some women, wearing a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF is one way that all patients can help prevent melasma from forming or worsening.
Dermatologists also recommend a physical sunscreen, which deflects UV rays, instead of a chemical sunscreen that absorbs and scatters UV rays.
Is Melasma Treatable?
Many patients with melasma response well to exfoliants like retinol, lactic acid, and glycolic acid that can be applied every other night.
Hydroquinone is another topical treatment for melasma, but like acids and retinols, it requires consistency and time to work.
Alternatively, melasma that’s resistant to these options may be best-suited for laser resurfacing or Intense Pulsed Light (IPL).
For additional information about melasma and avoiding sunburns that can ruin your skin, visit your dermatologist.