Anyone who has suffered with melasma knows the sheer soul-destroying struggle it presents — every, single, day. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, melasma is a skin condition where brown spots mercilessly appear on the forehead, cheeks, chin and upper lip. It is referred to as the “pregnancy mask” because it is triggered by hormones (birth control can also be a factor). That said, as I have learned through my obsessive compulsive research, the exact cause is nearly impossible to pin down.
My melasma seemingly appeared overnight about three years ago and I have been on a relentless mission to eradicate it ever since. I have been to multiple dermatologists, had laser treatments at medispas with highly trained aestheticians and tried nearly every brightening, exfoliating and camouflaging product under the sun.
What Causes Melasma?
For a long time, I obsessed over knowing why one day I had clear, porcelain-like skin and the next, a blotchy, dirty-looking complexion. As a twentysomething fashion and beauty editor in NYC, I preached about the importance of sunscreen, fruit enzyme peels and how the answer to a youthful complexion is one that is free of hyperpigmentation. Oh, the irony.
There are a lot of things that can lead to melasma: sun exposure, pollution and stress, among them. However, the stint of Acutane I took in my early twenties can’t be ruled out either. But all that is neither here nor there, the only thing now in my razor-sharp focus is getting rid of it.
Finding a Product That Works For Your Skin
Just as I was getting really desperate and starting to research chemical peels (think Samantha from Sex and the City hiding her raw, red skin under the black veil at Carrie’s book release party), I came across Curology. The brand was created for acne suffers, but as soon as I saw the high percentage of vitamin C — one of the most potent ingredients for fading dark spots and brightening skin — I went online immediately and ordered my trial bottle.
The most exciting thing about Curology is that a dermatologist creates a personalized formula for your skin based on selfies and a detailed description about what your skin goals are. As your skin’s needs change over time, the formula can be adjusted. In two weeks, my Curology prescriber has given me a better, more effective treatment plan than any doctor’s visit I’ve ever had. That is a big deal.
My particular formula contains tretinoin (treats and prevents wrinkles, stimulates collagen and fights breakouts), vitamin C (fades discoloration and stimulates collagen) and niacinamide (antioxidant known to prevent acne and hyperpigmentation). Collagen, another personal obsession, wasn’t even a consideration, so imagine my joy when I saw that the ingredients are key in stimulating production.
Not only did my Curology consultant give me an explanation of the ingredients, she also gave me more insight into melasma, how to incorporate the product into my skincare regime, an informative reminder about sunscreen as well as further measures I should take if the Curology lotion does not provide me with what I am looking for in the next 4-6 months. How cool is that?
“I have been to multiple dermatologists, had laser
treatments at medispas with highly trained aestheticians and tried nearly every brightening, exfoliating and camouflaging
product under the sun”
The journey begins with a trial size bottle of the formula. If you are happy with the formualtion, new bottles are sent automatically. Here is an excerpt of my in-depth analysis:
As you know, melasma is a common chronic skin problem where symmetrical, brown facial pigmentation is seen. Almost always in women. The cause of melasma is complex, and genetic factors may play a role.
Known triggers include:
—Sun exposure: this is the most important avoidable risk factor
—Pregnancy: pigment often fades a few months after delivery
—Hormone treatments: oral contraceptive pills, hormone replacement, IUDs
Treatment is difficult, and the problem often persists for decades. Research is ongoing, and there may be some better topical treatments on the horizon eventually. Curology medications combine to make a very effective treatment for some types of pigmentation; however, it may or may not make a significant difference in your melasma.
If sun protection / avoidance and your Curology medications do not offer enough improvement over the next 4 to 6 months, your best option may be to see a dermatologist in-person. Multiple treatments with different mechanisms of action may need to be tried, as there’s no one treatment that always works. Topical therapies are often combined with light chemical peels in office. Although lasers, other devices, and deeper peels may be tried, they can aggravate the condition by causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Procedures are not the first treatment of choice. Melasma can be heat sensitive, so the potential of worsening with laser treatments must be considered. Still, fractional lasers and IPL devices can be tried to treat any deeper pigment component. Realistic expectations are important, as melasma often relapses with unlikely long-term remission.
Also, when using a formula containing tretinoin, be careful not to wax facial hair. “Rug-burns” may result, which can leave hyperpigmentation that may take months to fade. The recommended timeframe to wait for a waxing treatment after using tretinoin varies. It can be anywhere from five days to three months. Because everyone reacts differently, I tend to discourage waxing at all while using this. I would recommend tweezing or threading instead.
Curology also regularly sends emails offering support on things like how to simply your beauty routine and other sisterly-type support. It is like someone is there holding your hand as you work on getting better skin together.
It has only been two weeks, but my skin is visibly clearer, plumper and the melasma looks a little lighter. I had a little breakout the first week (panic stations!), but apparently this is normal. However, the spots miraculously disappeared in 24-48 hours. And four to five days later there is absolutely no trace of a breakout whatsoever.
Will I keep using it? Absolutely. Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, a friend said my skin looked great. For someone who has constantly obsessed about the splotchy, dirty brown spots all over her face for what seems like forever now, this was practically cause for celebration.