Unless you are committed to living like a vampire—shunning all daylight hours and only coming out at night—you’re going to have some degree of pigmentation issues. Call it a sign of life, if you will.

The melanocytes in your skin, which is what gives skin its color, is responsible for your summer tan. But when melanocytes over-production happens, you get your post-summer patchiness. Enter melasma. Those pesky dark patches of pigmentation that appear on foreheads, on cheekbones, jaw lines, and over the top lip. While they might not be the end of the world, they definitely aren’t the most joy-inducing thing to see in your mirror pre-makeup routine.

(The term pigmentation is broad and refers to any type of skin discoloration. It can happen due to fading acne scars, or other skin issues. But in this article, we’re dealing specifically with melasma pigmentation.)

Active measures to deal with melasma. 

Unfortunately, there’s no single product or single ingredient that will cure your melasma issues. Instead, the best strategy, as per dermatologists’ advice, is a multilayered approach where you consistently use certain ingredients at different stages in your skincare routine. And you continue with the treatment, even after your melasma is less noticeable than before.

Having said that, here are the various ingredients that have been proven effective for helping skin effectively deal with its dark patches.

Acid toners

Make sure you are using an acid toner in your skincare routine. This is the step after your cleansing step and before the serum step. Acid toners will help to prime the skin and make it the most receptive for the formulas that come next. It sweeps away any remaining debris and balances the pH of your skin. Acid toners often consist of lactic acid, niacinamide, glycolic acid, mandelic acid, etc.


Every girl over the age of 30 needs some type of retinol product in her skincare routine. It’s right up there with SPF in importance. We could go on and on about how important it is, but in short, include Vitamin A, aka retinol or retinoids, into your routine. A strength of 0.5 to 1 percent retinol helps speed up skin cell renewal, thus influencing how quickly darker skin cells are replaced.

Vitamin C

This element works on many levels to brighten skin tone. First, it’s an antioxidant, which means that it serves as prevention from further damage to the skin. It boosts skin cell regeneration and aids in repair. And it also serves as an exfoliator, helping the skin to get rid of older, darker skin cells, allowing new skin cells to show. It also serves to inhibit melanin production– preventing that dark patch from getting darker!

Skin lasering is also a method of dealing with melasma, but we’ll get into that at a different time.

Preventative measures.

Being aware of what exacerbates melasma (i.e., darkens those dark spots) is the first step in effective preventative actions. A normal amount of color to one’s skin is fine and acceptable, but there are 3 circumstances that can cause over-production of this type of pigmentation in your skin.

1. Too much sun. 2. Fluctuating hormones. 3. Having darker skin. Not too much you can do about points 2 and 3, but there is a whole lot you can do about point number 1.

Many girls report that their melasma patches are darker in the summer and lighter in the winter and that’s because UV rays heighten or exacerbate your underlying melasma. So staying out of the sun and using all forms of sun protection IS something that you can do to lessen your melasma.

As part of your overall plan for dealing with your melasma, commit to wearing 50 SPF with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide daily and reapplying at 2-hour intervals. You need to do this even if you’re indoors but your desk is located near a window.

Heat will also darken your melasma patches, so aside from sun protection, avoid saunas and over-hot kitchens, and other too hot situations and places.

If there’s one thing you should take away from this little primer on melasma: Dealing with melasma is most effective when you take the long-term approach and combine preventative and active measures into your daily life, both when melasma is visible and when it isn’t! So set up a routine, pile on sun protection, and stick to it, lovelies!

—Eun-Ha Park


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