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Whether you’ve been struggling with melasma for years or have recently developed it, you know how much it can affect your day to day. Although it’s not painful or itchy, it can make you feel self-conscious and like you have to hide it from the world. It can be especially difficult to find providers and information specific to black and brown skin tones.
Trust us, you’re not alone and we’re here to help! We’ve compiled everything you need to know about melasma in black and brown skin tones, and most importantly the top five most effective natural treatments for melasma. Keep scrolling to learn how to uncover your healthiest skin and regain your confidence!
Melasma is a skin pigmentation disorder that causes darker patches of skin from your normal skin tone. It’s most common on the face and neck and is characterized by uneven and irregular borders.
The Cleveland Clinic shares that “between 1.5% and 33% of the population may get melasma and it happens more often during a woman’s reproductive years, and rarely happens during puberty. It usually starts between 20 and 40 years of age.” 9
The Skin of Color Society shares that melasma is much more common in people with skin of color, and the majority are women. “Latin- America, Asia, Middle East, and Northern Africa are areas with a higher prevalence of melasma.”5
Depending on your skin color, melasma can look tan, light brown, dark brown, blue or gray. The American Academy of Dermatology describes them as “blotchy patches” and “freckle-like” spots.7
Melasma is caused by your melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) going into overdrive and producing too much pigmentation, aka too much melanin. Since people with black and brown skin already have a higher level of melanin, they’re more likely to develop melasma. Below are some of the factors that can contribute to melasma in all skin tones:
Numerous studies have found that UV rays are directly linked to melasma. Specifically, individuals with melasma who have been exposed to the sun show higher levels of oxidative stress. Basically, the way your skin reacts to trying to heal itself from sun damage is by overproducing melanin.
In a 2010 study the UV rays on darker skin types were found to produce more pigmentation than on the volunteers with fairer skin.3
Pregnancy and Hormonal Factors
Researchers and medical experts have found that hormonal factors play a significant role in melasma. This is observationally confirmed by the increase in melasma for individuals who are pregnant, taking oral contraceptives or other hormonal therapies. The link between menopause and peri-menopause and melasma has also been seen.
This has been confirmed by studies specifically identifying progesterone and estrogen as being involved in causing the changes in pigment. 10
More research still needs to be done in this field but experts believe that any endocrinological conditions, like thyroid disease, or other conditions that can affect your hormones could be linked to melasma.
A 2017 Medical Review cites multiple studies that have found that 55-64% of patients with melasma have melasma in their family history. This is especially true in patients with brown and black skin tones.10
Melasma is most commonly associated with the face and neck, but there have been a growing number of cases involving the arms, hands, sternum and upper extremities. It’s now been termed extra-facial melasma.
An older study of 45 participants, with a mixture of individuals who have extra-facial melasma and those who don’t, were assessed and biopsied. The study concluded that melasma found on the arms, hands and other extremities appears to be “menopause, family history, and personal history of facial melasma.” The skin showed similar signs to that of facial melasma with sun damage and increased melanocytes present. This could suggest that the same treatment and prevention for melasma on the face can be effective for extra-facial melasma as well.11
If you have a change in your skin, it is always smart to find a professional for examination and diagnosis. Melasma itself is not dangerous or cancerous, but it can be indicative of an underlying condition. Diagnosing melasma can be more difficult in darker skin tones, so be sure to visit a trusted professional. Your dermatologist will typically use one or a combination of methods below to diagnose you:
Skin Assessment and Health Questionnaire: In many cases, melasma is diagnosed with a skin assessment and health questionnaire alone. The health questionnaire will include questions about your family and medical history, as well as current health status.
Biopsy: Your dermatologist may want to rule out other skin conditions which could require a biopsy. Sometimes the biopsy can be processed in office and sometimes it may require lab work.
Wood’s Lamp: To determine how deep your melasma goes, your dermatologist may use what’s called a wood’s lamp examination. It’s typically a hand-held light, similar to a black light, so when the lights are off, your dermatologist gets a clearer image of the areas affected by melasma and which areas have deeper discoloration and may need more treatment.
As with all skin conditions, prevention is key. Since melasma has a high rate of recurrency once you’ve had it, you’ll want to adjust your habits to help prevent the condition from worsening. Below are some of the best ways to prevent melasma in all skin tones.
Treat Underlying Conditions
One of the biggest links to melasma is hormonal changes and imbalances. This is why it’s so common for pregnant women to experience melasma, but Medical News Today shares that some other conditions that could cause hormonal irregularities and therefore melasma are4:
This is why it’s so important to see a trusted healthcare provider and be as honest and forthcoming you can about your health history or any other symptoms you’re experiencing. Treating these underlying conditions can help get rid of and prevent your melasma.
Unlike popular belief, individuals with brown and black skin still need to wear sunscreen! Even though you’re less likely to burn, UV rays still cause damage to your skin and can lead to melasma and other skin conditions. Here are some sun protection tips:
While there hasn’t been enough research to confirm, some professionals believe that increased stress can worsen melasma. Since stress heightens cortisol, it is possible that this can increase inflammation and trigger melasma.6
Avoid Excessive Heat
Some have found that exposure to high temperatures can make their melasma worse, so try to stay in the AC on hot summer days and avoid the sauna or steam rooms.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association shares that waxing may cause skin inflammation which can worsen melasma. If you have facial hair you want to get rid of, shaving and dermaplaning may be a great option for you!8
Unfortunately, due to the lack of health equity for people of color, it can be difficult to find evidence-based treatments for skin conditions in black and brown skin tones. Below we’ve collected our top natural non-prescription recommendations for treating melasma in skin of color.
Reishi/Kojic Acid Extract – Kojic Acid is a strong antioxidant clinically proven to reduce melasma. An older study of 39 patients found that 79% of participants saw a dramatic reduction in their melasma.2
Organic Shea Butter—Shea Butter is packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It works to heal the skin barrier and repair the skin to reduce melasma and hyperpigmentation.
Licorice Root Extract—Licorice Root Extract has two components, glabridin and liquiritin, both of which have been shown to brighten and lighten the skin naturally.12
Vitamin C—One of the most popular and powerful antioxidants on the skincare market, Vitamin C is known for its brightening properties. A 2020 study of 42 women found that after 12 weeks of using Vitamin C, the participants experienced a 45% improvement in brightening.1
Bamboo Charcoal—Bamboo charcoal is bamboo burned to create a porous charcoal which is great for skin exfoliation and brightening!
Are you looking for more ways to improve your skin?
Click the image for the Free Report: 4 Tips for Transforming Problem Skin to Naturally Beautiful Skin!
Any information provided on this website does not establish a patient-physician relationship.
The patient-physician relationship can only be established by a face to face visit where a full medical history and appropriate physical exam and testing are performed.
The content provided in this article is for information purposes only and does not establish a patient-physician relationship. A patient-physician relationship can only be established by a face to face visit where a medical history and physical examination are performed. You must seek out the counsel of a medical professional to know what care is needed for your individual concerns.