Dark circles though very common, can be difficult to address. Many factors are involved in causing dark circles, such as ethnicity, bone structure, anatomy of the skin etc, and most times a cream or serum cannot address all the factors involved, thus resulting in failure of treatment.
Let’s try to understand more about dark circles here.
What causes dark circles ?
There can be intrinsic factors (internal, genetically predetermined factors, inevitable) or extrinsic factors (external, environmental impact, modifiable).
Types of dark circles
Understanding the type of dark circles helps guide the treatment options.
Some OTC products that may help
Why are my eye creams not working?
So you have been using eye creams religiously for a long time and you still have not seen results. Why isn’t t it working for you?
Lack of sun protection: The under eye area is a commonly missed site during sunscreen application.
Not making the necessary lifestyle changes: Ongoing stress, lack of sleep, not cutting down on smoking and alcohol.
Underlying cause not addressed: Continuous scratching from eczema irritation.
Lack of patience: Depigmenting creams take time to work
Incorrect choice of product or treatment: Some form of dark circles benefit more from prescription medications or from a combination of products + in office procedures such as fillers, chemical peels etc
Unrealistic expectation: No creams/serum can 100% reduce dark circles. Shadowing effect due to bone structure cannot be corrected by creams. Constitutional pigmentation respond only minimally to OTC products.
I got a few questions on how to store skincare products when one is living in a hot tropical country with summers of >35°C and when instructions on product labels read “store below 25°C or store sunscreen below 30°C?
This is actually a great question and concern for consumers, I was so impressed at this level of consciousness and curiosity when it comes to skincare and cosmetics.
Since I am not a skincare or cosmetic developer, I am not fully aware of the best answer for this question and so I took the liberty to ask for help from a pharmacist and a post graduate in advanced cosmetology: Catarina Cabeçadas to answer this question. She is also the writer of “The skin balance blog“
As I was growing up I’ve seen my mum and most of my aunts trying in vain every remedy available for the pigmentation on their face
What is melasma?
Melasma also called cloasma is a common acquired hyperpigmentation disorder affecting mostly women in their reproductive age groups (~15-45 years) . It is the most common pigmentation disorder & is seen more commonly especially in individuals with darker skin type (FST IV-VI) affecting 9 -50% of the such high risk population . (Find out your skin type here)
What causes melasma?
Genetics: Certain genes are responsible for up regulating enzymes in the melanogenesis pathway (process of melanin production) which results in more melanin production.
UV Rays: Increase production of reactive oxygen species, which can then increase tyrosinaseactivity.
Hormones: Estrogen can up regulate enzymes (tyrosinase) and genes in the melanogenesis pathway, resulting in increase pigment production in genetically predisposed individulas.
How does it present?
Melasma presents with tan brown reticulate (lacy) pigmentation described in three distinct pattern on the face.
Centro facial pattern: Most common pattern affecting the forehead, nose, upper lip, chin and cheeks
Malar pattern : As seen in the below images affects the malar area (cheeks) of face
Mandibular pattern: Affects the jawline and chin, mostly seen in late onset melasma
Melasma in women can present for the first time in pregnancy and its referred to as “Mask of Pregnancy“. Treatment of which is more difficult because of the increase estrogen level in the body and as most medications used for pigmentation may not be safe during pregnancy.
The good news is that in some women, this mask of pregnancy is transient and will fade with time and proper management.
Can melasma occur in males?
Yes, melasma can occur in males as well. The male to female is ratio 1:9 i.e for every 9 females with melasma, 1 male individual also suffers from melasma. It has also been reported to have a higher prevalence in Indian males compared to Caucasian males.
Does melasma occur elsewhere besides the face?
Yes, rarely it can involve the neck, chest, the upper arms or forearms and it’s called “Extra facial melasma”
How is it diagnosed?
Most of the time a dermatologist can diagnose melasma by just examining it.
A wood’s lamp examination may be used to assess the dept of the pigmentation i.e if it is epidermal (superficial) or dermal (deep) pigmentation. Epidermal pigmentation respond to treatment better.
Occasionally a skin biopsy (examining of a skin sample under a microscope) may be required for a definitive diagnosis as all facial pigmentation is not melasma.
The hunt for the cure for melasma is still ongoing.
Though numerous treatment options are available now, there is still no “one product” that does it all.
The mainstay of treatment is avoiding the factors responsible for it as much as possible. Since one cannot change one’s genetic makeup, taking measures to avoid the modifiable factors (such strict sun protection) will help prevent its occurrence and reduce the appearance of an already developing melasma.
Its always good to know your personal risk of developing melasma so as you can actively prevent it from occurring in the future.
If melasma is highly prevalent in your ethnic group (for eg: melasma is highly prevalent in my hometown i.e Shillong, Northeast India) start taking preventive measures at the earliest. Its best to consult a dermatologist as early as possible at the start of the pigmentation rather than after a trail and error of using multiple self prescribed creams and remedies.
Shillong, though blessed with its hills, rivers, waterfalls and clouds, being at a higher altitude (1525 m above sea level) means it gets more UV rays than lower altitude areas and the cloud cover aids in scattering these UV rays. Understanding these facts will help individuals be more aware of the need of sun protection even in cloudy, pleasant days without the sun shining bright.
The first step to the treatment or prevention of melasma is strict sun protection. No creams, chemical peels or LASERS will effectively work if one is not complaint with this step
Gel formulation or matte finish for those with oily skin
Apply to both face and neck at least 20 mins prior to sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours especially when outdoors
Sunscreen application should be on all days even when the sky is cloudy or rainy
Use a sunscreen even when indoors (as glass cannot filter UVA light)
Other measures of sun protection include using a wide brim hat during your outing tot he beach or during any outdoor activity.
Avoid the peak hours of the day such as between 12 noon -2 pm when the sun is directly above the earth.
Seek shade whenever possible
Treatment to reduce pigmentation
Now that we’ve had sun protection covered, you will need to seek expert opinion (dermatologist) for further management as there are many active ingredients available for treating pigmentation and not everything is suitable for everyone.
If you are on medications such as oral contraceptive pills containing estrogen or drugs for seizures such as phenytoin which could be the potential cause of the melasma, then its best to speak to your treating physician for a possible changeover of the medications.
What are the treatment options available?
To understand how the treatments work, we first need to have an overview of how melanin (pigment responsible for our skin, hair, eyes colour) is formed.
Topical medications for melasma
Various options are availabe in the form or creams, ointments or serums and the choice will differ from patient to patient.
Topicals required long term and consistent use for the best results.
Not every option will work for everyone
Some of the active ingredients that are use to reduce pigmentation are enumerated in the tables below:
There are numerous options for the treatment of melasma, and the choice will depend with every patient.
For best results, sun protection, strict compliance and abundance of patience is required as improvement can only be appreciated after months of consistent skin care routine.
Oral medications for melasma
Trenexamic acid – An anti fibrinolytic drug that prevents the breakdown of protein (fibrin) present in blood clots. Therefore it is traditionally used to treat bleeding disorders.
It has been shown to be effective for the treatment of melasma in low doses. It has been show to produce results in 3 months but relapse rates are high and melasma recurs within 3 months of discontinuation of the drug.
Side effects are nausea, vomiting & serious side effects such as heart attacks, blood clots in veins of legs, renal injury (kidney problems) could potentially occur in individuals at risk.
Dermatological procedure where acids of higher strength is used such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid, trichloroacetic acid etc are applied to the face or pigmented area by a dermatologist for a short contact time.
The procedure is done every 3-4 weeks for 5-6 sessions depending on the patient’s response.
Second line treatment for those not responding to topicals alone.
Expensive and requires an experienced hand.
LASER for melasma
Various types of LASER are available for the treatment of melasma.
LASER treatment can be tricky especially in individual’s with darker skin type as the risk of pigmentation is higher. LASER are usually reserved for resistant cases not responding to the above mentioned treatment options.
LASER are not one time treatment. Creams and sunscreens will still be required to maintain the result and prevent recurrence.
LASER treatment are expensive but may be worth it when done by experienced hand.
There is still no cure for melasma.
Seek guidance from a dermatologist as the appearance of the pigmentation can be improved with either depigmenting creams & sunscreens or a combination of treatment especially when the treatment is started early.
I’ve been slacking with creating new content for the past few months, its been difficult to find the motivation sometimes especially when one is dealing with a million other things. But now with this pandemic going on, countries are facing global lockdowns and being a dermatologists and not someone working in the front lines of this health crisis, I now have more time to dedicate to this blog again. And I hope you’re all safe and well wherever you are.
As my first posts in months, I’ve decided to share something more on a personal note and not too much of the normal “science behind skincare” content I normally post.
I was lucky enough to be able to have a wedding reception in Goa recently in February 2020, just before this pandemic shook the world by storm.
I’ve been requested to share by professional advise on skin care for the upcoming brides out there. I was honoured to be featured by https://hitchedhaven.com/ (a website catering to future brides & grooms seeking to tie the knot in goa) on their website about my skincare advises as a dermatologists for “that wedding glow”.
Here are some pictures without makeup.
And the pictures from the wedding:
As a dermatologist skin care is my expertise. I’m a firm believer and advocate of evidence based consistent skin care regimen which means I use products backed up by science and I do not resort to DIY or home remedies for my skin or hair.
You plan for your wedding months ahead, similarly your skin needs the same amount of attention months prior to the big day.
Seek a consultation with a dermatologists to help formulate a skin care routine addressing your personal issues (be it acne, or pigmentation etc). Its important to start this early as there is no “fast track treatment” for such issues yet except for the magic of makeup, which can conceal anything. But if you’re someone like me who does not like wearing too much makeup and want to keep things as subtle and natural as possible then:
Find a dermatologist before you find a makeup artists.
If hydrated, clear, glowy skin is your goal without having to worry about the thick layer of makeup on your face for your wedding day especially if you’re planning to have a destination wedding in the humid climate of goa, here are some advises for you:
Use a broad sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection. Search for one with spf 30 and above with a PA factor of +++, this will help prevent sunburns and tanning which makes your skin look dull. If you want help with your choice of sunscreen, check out my previous post: https://drnaphi.com/2019/07/15/all-about-sunscreens/
You may opt for sessions of chemical peels which helps with pigmentation and gives you a glowy youthful skin. Chemical peels are out patient procedures performed by certified dermatologists in their clinics. Higher strength acids such as glycolic, salicylic, or trichloroacetic acids etc are used in multiple sessions of 2-3 weeks apart, to help achieve a clearer skin.
Always use a moisturiser. And yes, you still need a moisturiser even if you have oily acne prone skin, and its especially important if you’re using an active ingredient for your acne such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxide etc. I have acne prone skin and below are some of my favourite moisturisers:
Facials, clean ups are optional, but if you want that extra layer of pampering, then don’t wait till the day before to do it. The reason being, in case you do experience some allergic reactions from any of these products, your skin will have the time to heal. Do it a week before the big day and maybe just use face mask sheets for the instant hydration the night before.
Your skincare does not end on your wedding day.
Remember to wash your face thoroughly after the celebration. I know you’re going to be tired after at the end of the night but trust me, you need to get that makeup and sweat from the entire day off your skin before you take your final rest.
Use a micellar water or cleansing oil as the first step to remove all the oil based makeup. Then clean your face with any cleanser after.
My go to micellar water, but there are so many other versions out there in the market. You can use any one of your liking.
Cleansers I swear by, and its not just for this special day, I use them on a regular basis.