Meet Ashley Spivey, a super cool New Yorker who has been on a serious skin journey. Like many of us, Ashley struggles with Melasma, but has found a light at the end of the dark, patchy tunnel. We asked her to share her story with us:
It all started with a frecklestache.
You may know it by other names – pregnancy mask, hyperpigmentation, or dark patches on your face that are impossible to cover with makeup.
At this moment you are probably having an aha! moment of realizing what has been plaguing your face after the summer months or I’m just confirming a skin condition that you have been fighting for years.
Melasma is the worst.
Upon moving to New York in 2008 and becoming the palest I had ever been in my life (former avid sun worshipper), I also decided that this would be a wonderful time to switch my birth control to the NuvaRing. A couple of months later after basking in the sun in Central Park during the first warm day, I noticed a shadow above my upper lip that would not disappear. I had a frecklestache.
I tried every single skin lightening product in Sephora before finally visiting my dermatologist who immediately diagnosed my new skin friend as melasma and guessed the culprit, my new birth control method.
Yeah, I just said guessed.
Melasma is one of the most frustrating skin problems because skin specialists don’t have a lot of answers when it comes to what causes melasma. The consensus is that it’s caused by hormones since it’s usually triggered when pregnant, hence the mask of pregnancy moniker, but that’s about it. In my everlasting quest of researching melasma, some people hypothesize that it can be caused by stress or thyroid disease but they aren’t sure. Others postulate that the culprit is inflammation in the body or a liver that needs to be detoxed but the studies are scarce.
Yeah I guess that wasn’t of much help to you and now you are asking, “So what is melasma?”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melasma is a common skin problem. It causes brown to gray-brown patches, usually on the face. Most people get it on their cheeks, bridge of their nose, forehead, chin, and above their upper lip. It also can appear on other parts of the body that get lots of sun, such as the forearms and neck. It tends to appear more commonly in women and people with darker skin-types who live in sunny climates.
There really aren’t any symptoms with melasma except one day you are living your best skin life enjoying a rooftop brunch and the next day you are crying in your bathroom because you can’t cover up what appears to be a MUSTACHE!!!!
But here’s the good news with a tiny bit of bad news: Melasma is totally treatable but not curable.
The biggest advice I can give you and a dermatologist will stress is to keep your face out of the sun and invest in some high-quality SPF (more on this below). I’m serious about this. The key to keeping your melasma at bay is never going outside without a hat that will cover your entire face and slathering your face every 50 minutes – 2 hours with sunscreen. You may think I’m being a little dramatic but pay attention to how much the sun hits your face. I get stressed now when I’m driving and the sun is beating down on my face through the window. I can no longer sit on the sunny spot on my couch. Rooftop brunches are no longer a thing (unless I have my hat). It really hurt to breakup with my boyfriend, the Sun, but I know that my face will thank me later when I have no wrinkles and no melasma (this is in the future when they have found a cure for it).
When purchasing your biggest weapon against melasma, sunscreen, aim for an SPF 30-50. The best sunscreens to use for melasma will be physical rather than chemical. Physical sunscreens succeed by using active ingredients to reflect sunlight. Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients to absorb the damaging UV light before it gets to your skin. Physical sunscreens are recommended for melasma because they stop more visible light and UV radiation from reaching the skin whereas the active ingredients in chemical sunscreen can irritate your skin and make hyperpigmentation worse. An ideal sunscreen will also contain a higher ratio of zinc oxide to titanium dioxide and will not contain oxybenzone, a known hormone disruptor.
Since I’ve already extolled the benefits of hats and sunscreen, I’ll move on to your next best melasma weapon – a good dermatologist. A good dermatologist will help you come up with a plan to fight and maintain this annoying skin problem. My first dermatologist suggested I apply a mixture of hydroquinone, retin-a, and a corticosteroid. This completely faded the dreaded stache but I looked like I had a horrible waxing accident for 3 months. Depending on your skin type, this can be harsh on your skin but it’s definitely the most prescribed treatment since it seems to be the most effective. But there’s more options out there…
For me, chemical peels and limited lasers have been miracle workers but you have to be careful with both and make sure your treatments are being performed by a licensed individual. Too strong of a chemical peel can lead to scarring and hyperpigmentation, and heat-based lasers can worsen melasma. Recently, I received a light PCA peel with hyperpigmentation add-ons and I started the Obagi Nu-Derm System which contains hydroquinone and retin-a. This combination has dramatically reduced the dark spots I gained over the Summer but I plan to also continue with Clear and Brilliant lasers and microneedling during the Winter. I’ve also heard that the PicoSure laser is a breakthrough treatment for melasma.
If in-office peels and lasers are a little too expensive, making changes to your daily skin care regimen will also yield great results. If a skin product irritates your skin, chances are it’s also making your melasma worse. Gentle products are best when dealing with hyperpigmented skin. The general consensus is to also invest in a stable vitamin C serum that you can apply after cleansing and before sunscreen everyday. Topicals that include glycolic acid, kojic acid and azelaic acid are also helpful for maintenance.
*I’ve included a list below in case you are wondering what I use, however, consult with your dermatologist on what is best for you and your skin! *
While melasma is extremely annoying and can hurt your self-confidence, it does force you to take better care of your skin which is always a good thing. Just know that you aren’t alone and there are tons of treatment options out there! If you have any questions, head over to @ashleyspivey on Instagram, where I’m always displaying new products or treatments that I’ve used, and send me a DM!