Age spots, sun spots, freckles, post-acne blemishes and melasma all fall under a condition known as hyperpigmentation, in which patches of skin become darker than the surrounding skin. It is common, and it can happen to women and men of all ages and skin types.
According to Dr Isaac Wong, medical director of The Artisan Clinic, hyperpigmentation is triggered by two factors – prolonged exposure to the sun without protection and inflammation, which can occur from an acne breakout or when strong laser treatment is used on the skin.
Treating hyperpigmentation is not always straightforward. Pigmentation spots and patches can be found near the skin’s surface or in the skin’s deeper layers or both. While pigments that occur at the top-most layer of the skin respond well to lasers and other medical treatments, the pigments that are found in the deeper skin layers, or found in multiple layers of the skin, present more difficulties.
“The deeper the pigment, the tougher it is to treat”, says Dr Wong.
Melasma: one of the most difficult types of hyperpigmentation to treat
Melasma, which appears as brownish patches, is one of the more difficult types of hyperpigmentation to treat.
“Melasma is a very common skin disorder. Loosely translated, it means ‘black spot’,” says Dr Wong. It frequently occurs on the cheeks, upper lips and forehead. It is also known as the “mask of pregnancy” as it is commonly seen in women between the ages of 30 and 40, pregnant women and women who are on oral contraceptives or on hormone therapy, he adds.
Melasma gained a reputation for being difficult to treat because it often occurs in the deeper layers of the skin, which makes it difficult to target through treatment, and it also recurs easily.
Dr Wong adds that he’s seeing more patients – a 50 per cent increase – coming in to seek help for melasma in the last two years.