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Melasma is skin problem experienced by many women, and some men, which is characterized by dark splotchy patches on the face or arms. Individuals with darker skin tones usually experience the condition more often than those with fair skin, due to an increased amount of melanin in the skin. Experts know that melasma is created by the release of melanin within cells, but the cause of the production of these cells is still unknown. Heredity, sun exposure, and certain medications can be triggers for the skin problem; fortunately, there are many melasma treatment options. The most commonly recommended melasma treatment is prevention; patients are encouraged to wear sunscreen, and avoid medications that may exacerbate the problem.
For an individual who already suffers from the condition, one melasma treatment choice may be a chemical peel. This involves using acidic chemicals such as glycolic acid, azelaic acid, or lactic acid. Some fruit extracts can also be used. Patients usually find that the stronger chemicals produce results faster and better. There are side effects associated with these heavy peeling processes, such as discolored skin, burns, and scars. When serious chemicals are used, sometimes the resulting effects are aesthetically worse than the initial melasma condition.
Another choice for a patient suffering from melasma is a skin lightening solution. Many natural remedies and chemical compounds are available with or without a prescription, depending upon the strength of the cream. The most common bleaching cream used as a melasma treatment is hydroquinone, while some solutions are combinations of hydroquinone and other components. Most over the counter bleaching creams are safe, but prescription strengths have been proven to be more effective. Patients choosing prescription strengths will find them to be much more expensive, and they may experience red, dry, or peeling skin.
Laser resurfacing is yet another option for those experiencing problems with melasma. A doctor must perform this process, which involves melasma patches being scorched off with a laser. Doctors can often take care of melasma in one treatment, and with proper skin coverage and use of sunscreen, patients can keep melasma away for up to five years. This process can be very costly and painful, as the doctor must use expensive equipment and the top layer of the epidermis is removed. Recovery time is usually at least one to two weeks.
A melasma treatment called IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light Therapy, is yet another option. This is a more recent development in treating melasma. Some claim that IPL is safer than laser therapy because it does not damage the epidermis, but instead sends energy to the top and deeper skin layers. The lightening from these treatments can last up to a year, with correct sun protection. While this option is often cheaper than laser resurfacing, it can take several treatments to get results.
Patients can find many treatments that may improve melasma symptoms, though none of these cures the condition completely. Any of the melasma treatment options will eventually need to be performed again. To further prevent symptoms, and to enhance the improvements from treatments, patients can wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 20 or more, apply make-up, and protect themselves with clothing.