Melasma + Hyperpigmentation: Natural Remedies That Really Work
In this new series (inspired by you guys!) we’re spilling the skin-ny on common skin conditions that our customers experience. Our inbox is consistently flooded with questions concerning rosacea, eczema, hormonal acne, aging, melasma and more, so all month long we’re tackling our top skincare FAQs. Check out Post 1 for Natural Remedies for Rosacea, Eczema + Sensitive Skin.
But before we get started, there’s something I should mention: This series is not an end all be all or an exhaustive explanation of these skin conditions (or possible remedies) or a diagnosis. It’s simply intended to help guide you in getting to know your skin, what’s going on below the surface and offer some helpful, holistic suggestions. Our largest organ is extremely complex (which makes my job as a Holistic Esthetician challenging and rewarding all at the same time!) and the journey to establishing balance internally + externally may require a few detours, discovering new paths along the way and ultimately, developing a more mindful relationship with your body and skin to find the most supportive remedies for YOU.
Next up: melasma and hyperpigmentation (aka sun spots + acne scarring). Feel free to skip to the condition you’re struggling with or skim to find the best remedy to fit your skin’s needs. But do be sure to make it to the bottom for a little reminder as you take steps to support + repair your skin, holistically. 🙂
You may know this skin condition by its street name: pregnancy mask. Any mamas out there experiencing melasma and have tried everything to treat it? Appearing as larger, dense dark/brown/gray patches often on the forehead, upper lip, cheeks and chin, this condition can seem so complex – and can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Because this type of discoloration is different from sun spots (keep scrolling for tips to treat those!), and is a direct result of internal factors + inflammation, reducing pigmentation requires a holistic approach to help minimize its appearance – more on that later. 🙂
Here are some common root causes (and surprisingly, it’s not just pregnancy):
- Skin tone: darker skin tones have more active melanocytes and are more prone to developing discoloration
- Health conditions
- Hormonal changes (this one is huge)
- Birth control
It makes sense this condition is called melasma because it’s due to the overproduction of melanin. Now, I know melasma has gotten a bad rap, but melanin isn’t actually the bad guy. Melanin is the pigment that appears on our complexion (and what gives our skin its beautiful hue) and is produced by cells called melanocytes in the dermal (aka deepest) layer of the skin. But when the body overproduces melanin, that’s when deposits occur and discoloration develops.
A few factors that trigger melasma include:
- Hormonal changes
- Sun exposure
- Heat + inflammation (increases melanocytes)
- Overall health
- Stress + mental well-being (definitely impacts hormonal balance)
- Harsh topical products
While melasma doesn’t necessarily pose a risk to the health of your skin or body, unwanted dark spots can definitely take a toll emotionally and decrease self-confidence. So before diving into holistic remedies, I just want to mention that no matter the cause for your melasma: whether it’s pregnancy, a health struggle or a predisposition based on your genetics + ethnic background, each of these factors is a part of who you are as a human and speaks to the life you’ve lived. Your pregnancy means you brought a precious life into this world, a health struggle means you’re on the path to deeper healing + wholeness and your genetics is a beautiful part of how you were created and the family that cared for you.
Oh, and here’s some good news: often after giving birth or swapping to an alternative form of birth control or addressing underlying health/hormonal conditions, many have discovered that melasma begins to dissipate on its own!
Okay, thanks for letting me deep there for a second. 😉 Now let’s take a deeper look at how to help melasma, holistically.
MELASMA: NATURAL REMEDIES
Here are my top lifestyle tips and non-toxic product picks to help:
VITAMIN C: Struggling with melasma? Make this vital antioxidant your go-to. It brightens skin, minimizes appearance of dark spots, discoloration and UV-induced damage – and also protects against (and powerfully reverses!) free radical damage that can lead to further discoloration. Plus natural sources of Vitamin C from whole, unrefined plant oils have the added advantage of containing other powerful vitamins, minerals and glow-boosting benefits.
Side note: Be cautious of synthetic versions of Vitamin C (such as L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, ester-C and even more) which are often derived from corn syrup, acetone and other toxic chemicals. Oh, and while we’re on the topic: stay far away from hydroquinone – a top (and very toxic) skin-lightening ingredient on the market.
These skin-specific serums are packed with whole plant sources of Vitamin C! Try alternating the Clarifying Serum and Plumping Serum into your daily skin rituals to support a brighter, more even complexion.
GUA SHA: While there’s not a magic wand for melasma, this tool comes pretty close. 😉 This ancient technique is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine and works with the skin tissue to optimize skin functions. Gua sha helps to clear excess fluid + proteins, break up melanin deposits, dissipate discoloration over time, boost circulation and visibly brighten the skin. Remember, better flow = brighter glow! Plus it helps to infuse your nutrient-dense, vitamin C serum even more deeply into the skin and powerfully relieves stress + tension (key triggers for this condition)!
Partner a regular Gua Sha practice (daily is ideal, but 3-5x/week works too!) with a healthy lifestyle to improve your complexion, stress levels and state of mind. Watch this tutorial to get gua sha tips for treating discoloration!
COOL DOWN: High temperature environments are a common trigger for melasma (making dark spots spread), so it’s important to stick with hobbies + habits that help to cool the skin, calm inflammation + promote healing. If you’re experiencing melasma you may want to reschedule your hot yoga or sauna session and swap it for another self-care practice that supports clear, cool skin from within. (And of course, steer clear of the sun’s hot rays and keep your non-toxic SPF on hand to minimize melasma flare-ups).
To cool things down, consider a slow/restorative yoga flow for your workout, swap an epsom salt bath for salt therapy to detox + de-stress, and if you want to get real serious about cooling down, try cryotherapy. 😉
PRIORITZE SLEEP: It may seem so simple (and something we can easily skimp on), but sleep is a must when it comes to supporting hormonal health, stress levels and skin clarity. When our bodies are given the time they need to truly rest and slow down, they’re able to fully focus healing energy and restorative functions on repairing + rebuilding the body.
Aim for 7-8 hours per night to help manage melasma: set a bedtime alarm on your phone (and actually listen to it!) and take a few moments before bed to help improve restorative sleep with a short meditation, deep breathing, burning Palo Santo or sipping bone broth.
Dark spots, sun spots, liver spots, age spots… It doesn’t matter what you call it, they’re all the same and you can thank the sun as the main culprit for hyperpigmentation. It shows up as dark spots/patches on the skin and sadly, is a sign of skin damage. Of course, there are definitely internal imbalances that can create dark spots on the skin (duh 😉 ), but because this type of discoloration often resides in the epidermis (unlike melasma which resides in the dermis), it has a pretty good success rate in being treated and prevented. It’s just going to take a little commitment (and a lot less sun) on your part.
Here are some root causes that can reveal dark spots in the skin:
- Sun exposure (#1 cause, right here)
- Health conditions + diseases
- Hormone changes
- Genetics + ethnic background
Like I mentioned above, melanin is not the enemy. Additional melanin production is actually a protective mechanism to absorb and redistribute UV light to help protect from skin cancer + sun damage. This process is also the same with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (aka acne scarring) and can be caused by an influx of melanin to help protect + repair the inflammation. This is a super common struggle after breakouts, especially if you’re prone to picking! Trust me, it’s better to let a breakout run its course than to deal with the discoloration that lingers long after it’s healed.
Along with acne-prone skin, darker skin tones can be more susceptible to developing discoloration due to having higher melanin content + more active melanocytes (hence, their skin’s deep, beautiful hue). Although Black skin naturally has more melanin (and more internal sun protection!), non-toxic SPF is a must to minimize future flare-ups, no matter your ethnic background (keep scrolling for my fav natural sunblock brands!).
For all skin tones, here are a few triggers that can exacerbate hyperpigmentation:
- Sun exposure
- Excessive heat
- Skin trauma, injury or infection (please, don’t pick!)
- Hormone changes
Taking the root causes and common triggers into consideration, it’s important to treat pigmentation issues inside and out. Prioritizing lifestyle habits that help to promote balanced hormones, body + mind and applying topical products that natually support the skin’s reparative work without aggressive ingredients that can aggravate discoloration even more.
But before we dive into those holistic remedies, it’s important to mention that If you notice a dark spot changing in color, shape or texture over time that seems concerning, it might be smart to have your trusted medical professional take a look at it.
HYPERPIGMENTATION: NATURAL REMEDIES
Here are my top lifestyle tips and non-toxic product picks to help:
SAFE SPF: If the sun is the main culprit, then sun protection is the #1 remedy. But not just any SPF will do – avoid conventional sunscreens that contain chemicals that can contribute to hormone disruption (another trigger for discoloration) and opt for a natural mineral sunscreen to prevent dark patches from popping up. Look for labels with safe ingredients that protect your skin + your health, such as non-nano zinc oxide, which provides broad-spectrum protection and blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
Here are some of our non-toxic favorites that have been formulated specifically for your face: Raw Elements, Badger Balm, Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint, and W3ll People Bio-Tint Moisturizer. For more natural sun protection tips, check out this post!
MULTI-MASK: Clarifying Mask + Plumping Mask = the answer to your pigmentation problems. The Clarifying Mask contains turmeric which is proven to calm inflammation + decrease UV damage and white willow bark (a natural form of salicylic acid) gently stimulates cell turnover to reveal more even skin tone + visibly brighten the complexion. The Plumping Mask is packed with bakuchiol (a natural retinol alternative) which deeply penetrates to powerfully repair sun damage + reduce melanin synthesis – without any irritation. Hibiscus adds even more glow power with natural acids and antioxidants to diminish sun spots + stimulate cell turnover.
Multi-mask + relax! Apply the Clarifying Mask and Plumping Mask 1-3x/week for 15-30+ minutes.
ASTAXANTHIN: Asta-what? Asta-ZAN-thin. This deep red/orangey oil is sourced from algae and one of the most potent antioxidants found in nature – and it’s a powerhouse when it comes to repairing sun damage + minimizing dark spots. Ready for some quick stats? Astaxanthin is:
- 500 times stronger than vitamin E
- 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C
- 800 times stronger than Coenzyme Q10
- 550 times stronger than green tea catechins
- 75 times stronger than alpha-lipoic acid
That’s a lot of times. 😉 And it’s not just a lone ranger, it works together with other antioxidants to optimize their potency to pack a serious punch of skin-brightening properties. What more do I need to say? Get this red algae on your skin asap!
Apply this serum daily and over time you’ll start to see your skin’s health truly transform.
DARK SPOTS DIET: Food is a powerful way to fight inflammation in the body, balance hormone fluctuations, protect from sun damage and expedite the skin’s healing process. There are lots of delicious foods you can enjoy to help diminish dark spots – and a few you definitely want to avoid. Let’s start with the inflammation-inducing foods to watch out for: gluten, refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, conventionally raised animal products (instead opt for pasture-raised) as well as highly processed oils (aka canola, safflower, cottonseed, and soybean to name a few).
Now for the good stuff! Load up on veggies (especially green/leafy ones), foods packed with betacarotene (mango and sweet potato are my fav), lycopene-rich fruit and veg (like red peppers + papaya), and healthy fats/skin-loving oils (extra virgin olive oil + avo are my go-tos). Oh, and stay hydrated with lots of pure water and sip on green tea for a boost of polyphenols.
Remember at the beginning I mentioned how complex the skin can be? It’s true.
Although I just unpacked a few of the skin tone + discoloration issues we get asked about all the time, sometimes these conditions can reveal themselves differently depending on the person. And although I shared a few holistic tips to help repair these conditions, different remedies may work better for some than for others. But ultimately, I want to encourage you to tune in to your skin (and seek medical advice + attention if needed) and incorporate the remedies + rituals that resonate with you.
While it may take time and possibly some trial + error, I hope that as you start to implement these holistic lifestyle suggestions and natural topical solutions into your daily life, you will begin to experience a positive shift within – and remember, the skin is a reflection of exactly that.