October 31, 2016

My Biggest Insecurity: Trying to Face My Melasma in Florida

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor and this post is not medical advice for you. Actually, it's not advice at all, since—as I'm sure will become apparent—I have no idea what I'm doing. So please, be smart, talk to an actual doctor, use your seatbelt, etc. etc.

Second disclaimer: I've linked to several products and companies, none of which have sponsored this post or anything like that. In other words, I'm not getting paid for this. (Although I wouldn't turn you down, if you're offering. Kidding, of course. Mostly.)

Almost two years ago, I posted this post about melasma. If you didn't read it, it's one of those triumphant posts where I tell you that I've defeated this awful little "friend" of mine, complete with a blog-worthy photo of me smiling in front of a red brick wall.

Unfortunately, two years later, here I am posting about this god-awful condition once again. (I'd never make it as a beauty blogger, I know.)

But here's the deal: when doctors say that melasma can't be cured, I guess they really mean it. And so while I was able to fade my melasma for a while in 2014, it's back now and better than ever.

Remind me what melasma is again.

I guess I should back up and explain who my a-hole of a little friend is: Melasma is a condition where your skin (usually on your face) develops uneven pigmentation. This pigmentation usually appears as large, symmetrical blotches on your cheeks, nose, forehead, chin, and above your upper lip, and can be anywhere from brown to sort of a grayish blue. 

The discoloration is due to the overproduction of melanin by the pigment cells in your skin, but doctors aren't positive why this happens. However, they are pretty sure the cause is a combination of several things, including genetics, sun exposure, and hormones (which is why it's common in pregnant women).

And because life is really fair and we have nothing else to worry about, women are way more likely to suffer from melasma than men (only about 5-25% of melasma sufferers are male). Oh yeah, and as of now, melasma is not curable. 

So can you treat melasma?

Now, although doctors keep reiterating that melasma is not curable (as of now), some people do have success fading the pigmentation. The problem is, since we don't know exactly why the skin pigment goes nuts, we also don't have a one-size-fits-all way of treating it.

Back in 2014, two things changed that could've accounted for my spots fading: one, my doctor switched my birth control pill to one with a lower dose of estrogen (since some doctors believe estrogen plays a big role in darkening melasma), and two, the Washington, DC (my home at the time) winter kept me almost completely out of the sun.

To be honest, it's impossible to say which one played a bigger role in fading my spots. But it's also sort of a moot point anyway since I ended up switching back to my original birth control pill (after a fun year of hormonal acne) and moving from DC to, literally, the sunshine state.

Did the melasma come back then?

Yes. And other than giving me more blog material, it has really sucked.

You see, the sun here in Florida is strong, so my melasma came back with a vengeance. My spots became even darker and bigger, and worst of all, new spots starting forming. It's now not only above my lip, but also on my forehead, cheeks, and nose.

If you think that sounds pretty depressing, you're right.

So what are you going to do about it?

I wish I could say I'm just going to embrace it, accept my flaws, and start making motivational posters.

But I'm not that inspirational of a woman, so instead I'm doing my damnedest to make it fade again. So what exactly does that mean? Well, let me tell you:

1. Limiting sun exposure. 
Which is a lot easier said than done, especially in Florida. I'm doing what I can, though, meaning a lot of floppy hats and a good physical sunscreen. (Doctors recommend physical sunscreens, like those having zinc oxide, instead of chemical sunscreens for people with melasma.)

I use this SkinMedica cream that my doctor recommended because it also supposedly protects against infrared light (i.e., heat), which some doctors believe is another influential factor in developing melasma. (And as someone who works out in a non-air conditioned Florida CrossFit gym, I'm no stranger to heat.)

2. Stopping hormonal birth control.
After almost a decade of taking the pill, I quit cold turkey about six weeks ago. Now, if you're reading this and thinking, but Nicole, aren't you worried about breaking out? Horrendous cramps and PMS madness? Getting pregnant?

Well, the answer is yes—but I'm willing to risk it if there's any chance that it'll help fade my spots (which should tell you something about how desperately I want this problem solved).

3. Getting chemical peels. 
Last winter, I did a series of SkinMedica peels (performed at my dermatologist's office, of course, since no one's got time for chemical burns). It was pretty pricey but I was happy with how my melasma looked when we finished.

Unfortunately, the results only lasted until summer, when all of my spots came right back.

Now that it's winter in Florida (i.e., sort of hot instead of oppressively hot) and I'm no longer taking hormonal contraception, I thought I'd give the chemical peels another shot. Only this time, the aesthetician I've been seeing recommended a little bit of a stronger peel, the VI Peel with Precision Plus. (I had my first one done four days ago, so the jury's still out.)

Now, to be honest, chemical peels make me wary. (No matter what the professionals tell me, spreading acid all over my face doesn't sound smart.) But based on my experience, peels do produce at least some good short-term results. So I'm hoping this round of chemical peels will jump start things while I wait for my no-synthetic hormones, no-sunlight lifestyle to kick in.

4. Taking supplements.
Taking supplements, especially those not prescribed by a doctor, is not usually my cup of tea. But based on the anecdotal evidence from women on different skincare forums, it seems like methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and pine bark extract could have some positive effects—so I'm willing to give it a try. I found a supplement called Melacor that has both, and while ordering a supplement online feels sort of like a recipe for disaster, so does spreading acid on my face—yet here we are. Go big or go home, I suppose.

So there you have it—a complete breakdown of everything you never needed to know about my face. See you again in two years, when I tell you how the only thing I got out of this was two pine trees growing out of my ears. (Totally kidding. I hope.)

Do you or anyone you know deal with melasma? Has anything helped, or am I stuck with this until I move to the Arctic?