It's Basically Summer: Here's How To Deal With Melasma Naturally
If you're prone to melasma, here's why you may start to see patches pop up—and what you can do about it.
I, for one, welcome the summer sun and heat: Bring me a languid afternoon, bathing in the rays, sinking into a beach chair, paging through a book—and do so STAT! But being the good beauty writer that I am, my SPF is nearby and ready to reapply at all times. That's because I know and research the myriad ways prolonged and excessive UV exposure can damage precious skin. And I really, really hate the idea of damaging my skin.
One way that the sun does a number on our complexion is melasma, a tricky form of discoloration that tends to show up more during the summer months. If you're prone to melasma, here's why you may start to see patches pop up—and what you can do about it.
What melasma is & why it flares during the summer.
Melasma is a form of skin discoloration that is connected to sun exposure and hormonal changes—and you must be genetically predisposed to it. Read: Not everyone will get melasma patches if they spend a day at the beach, and its trigger isn't simply UV damage. In fact, other triggers include hormonal fluctuations like birth control, menopause, and pregnancy, overall inflammation from lifestyle, and just aging over time.
This all being said, UV and heat damage do not help. UV and heat cause inflammation in the skin. This inflammation pushes melanocytes (the parts of our cells that produce pigment) into overdrive. And this will result in melasma for those with genetic predispositions.
"It isn't painful and doesn't present any health risks but can cause significant emotional distress for the estimated 6 million American women who develop these dark patches on their faces," says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. "Because it can be difficult to treat, minimizing triggers is important."
What to do about melasma in the summer.
If you have melasma, you likely know how tricky it can be to tend to—and thus preventive care is often key:
This should really come as no surprise. Physical sunscreen will protect you from UV rays that spur skin inflammation. But for those with melasma, you should also look for one that has zinc oxide, specifically, as it has been shown to have a calming and soothing effect—which is particularly helpful for the condition. However, zinc oxide is harder to rub in, so it may take some guessing and testing to find an option that works for you—or find a tinted option that doubles as a foundation! (You're sure to find one here.)
"Arbutin is a naturally occurring compound in the leaves of a variety of plants, including pear trees and the bearberry plant, that prevents the formation of melanin," Barr told us about the natural brightener, noting that the overproduction of melanin in certain areas is what makes up dark spots and melasma patches. "It functions as a tyrosinase inhibitor to provide skin-brightening effects. This happens because when your skin and these cells come in contact with UV light, the tyrosinase enzyme is activated. Arbutin blocks this." The ingredient is a common addition to many brightening serums, so look out for it on the label.
This underrated acid helps with melasma in two ways. First, it's a very gentle chemical exfoliant, so it is ideal for evening out your complexion. But, unlike other acids, this can also combat hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase, much like arbutin.
As summer approaches, it's time to get smart about summer skin care. One way to do so is to pay attention to melasma—first by protecting your skin with SPF, then utilizing natural botanicals that can help manage pigmentation.