A whole lot of change comes with being pregnant. Many proclaim to experience the pregnancy glow, but in reality, women most commonly experience dry skin, acne, and hyperpigmentation or melasma. Not fun. Melasma or the darkening mask on our skin is due to elevated levels of estrogen or progesterone or UV ray exposure. It is seen in 45-75% of women during pregnancy. What causes melasma and how do we treat it?
What causes melasma?
Melasma is caused by 2 methods: an increase in melanin production due to hormones and increased UV exposure. Higher levels of estrogen or UV rays from the sun stimulate the cells to produce more melanin and cause the visible darkening of the skin that we see. A little enzyme called tyrosinase is responsible for the first step in melanin production. Melanin is formed within melanocytes and the visible darkening of the skin is caused when the pigment is transferred from melanocytes to keratinocytes (part of the skin’s layers).
Melasma caused by an increase in hormone production typically goes away after one year of a decrease in estrogen or progesterone levels. The dark spots caused by UV exposure typically does not go away after hormones are rebalanced.
How do we treat hyperpigmentation?
Reducing the overall amount of melanin formation can be treated by blocking tyrosinase from starting the process or preventing the transfer of melanin which drives visible pigmentation.
In Western medicine, hyperpigmentation is treated topically, usually with a combination of hydroquinone, triple-combination cream (hydroquinone, tretinoin, and fluocinolone acetonide), azelaic acid, laser and light-based therapy, or the use of tranexamic acid. However, during pregnancy, our skin is very sensitive and everything we use topically can be absorbed into the bloodstream by the fetus. Here is a list of ingredients to avoid during pregnancy:
- High-dose salicylic acid
- Chemical sunscreens
What are considered safe skincare ingredients to use during pregnancy?
We did the research and found a few active and natural ingredients that are safe to treat hyperpigmentation during pregnancy.
Azelaic acid is derived from naturally occurring ingredients such as wheat, rye, and barley. It was initially found to treat acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in acne. However, this acid does so much more and it actually prevents tyrosinase from starting melanin production. During pregnancy, there is a persistent hormonal trigger that causes melasma. Azelaic acid works to reduce the overall development of melasma. Our Soft Cashmere Face Serum uses encapsulation technology to ensure the ingredient does not lose its efficacy as it gets absorbed into the skin. Using this method the acid is slowly released and retains its ability to do its job.
Niacinamide is most popularly known to minimize the appearance of large pores. However, it is believed that niacinamide prevents the transfer of melanin which results in less dark spots we see. At the same time, it reduces the overall discoloration for an overall more even skin tone. The great thing about this ingredient is that it plays well with other ingredients reducing the possibility of irritation.
Purple yam has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) diet for its antioxidant properties and prevention and treatment of several diseases. When applied topically, it boosts collagen production and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. It also contains enzymes that gently exfoliate the top layer of the skin. So while azelaic acid and niacinamide work at the cellular level, purple yam targets the outermost layer of the skin. Purple yam also contains high levels of mineral potassium which helps hydrate and moisturize the skin while all the exfoliation is occurring.
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine approach melasma or hyperpigmentation?
In addition to treating the skin topically, we have found acupuncture complementary to treating melasma. In Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, the yin and yang need to be in balance for an individual to be healthy. The outer appearance of an individual is due to the regulation of the internal systems in the body. Acupuncture works by inserting tiny needles at specific areas in the body to release the body’s vital energy or “qi”. It is believed that acupuncture can promote blood and qi circulation thus stimulating the cells to heal themselves and improve hyperpigmentation and melasma. In fact, it’s been reported that acupuncture reduces melasma and hyperpigmentation by 87-96%.
We believe in taking several different approaches to solving our skin woes. Whatever your approach is, there is something to be said about treating the problem at the source rather than only targeting its symptoms.
Let us know in the comments what methods you have tried to reduce the effects of melasma and hyperpigmentation.