In my 40s I noticed my skin gradually changing to reveal light splotchy shadows around the sides of my face and over my upper lip. Summer's unforgiving sunlight seemed to intensify their appearance. My dermatologist diagnosed me with a mild case of melasma, a skin condition that commonly appears when hormones are in flux, and prescribed Retin-A.
Now in the throes of perimenopause at 50, my melasma continues to be on my mind. In my youth I battled zits to achieve a great complexion. Today, my focus is on addressing discoloration in order to maintain healthy, clear skin.
Reaching for support this summer, I booked an Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Precision Peel at Gaylord National Resort's Relâche Spa and Salon for intense self-care. I also talked in advance to Relâche esthetician Irene Bwewusa for some overdue education.
She unpacked melasma and so much more. Here are three things I learned:
1. Sun exposure + hormonal changes = melasma and is just one type of hyperpigmentation, affecting 5 million people, the majority of whom are women. Hyperpigmentation is a general term to describe when cells overproduce pigment, creating a splotchy appearance. Bwewusa says it occurs for many reasons, citing medication, excessive sun exposure, post-acne scarring as well as hormonal changes consistent with pregnancy or menopause. “It's important for us to identify what the root cause is so treatment isn't counterproductive,” she stresses. She did concede that melasma is different and requires time to reverse the damage because of the many layers affected.
Her words brought to mind a past treatment at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys where my esthetician, who wishes to remain anonymous, responded with one word when I told her I'd been diagnosed with melasma: “Stubborn. Melasma is stubborn.” Her gentle but quick rejoinder emphasized melasma is a tough foe.
Damaging sunexposure is at the center of all types of hyperpigmentation. Bwewusa stresses that UVA and UVB rays target areas of the skin that already are weak and highly vulnerable from sunexposure, further worsening the pigmentation. This explains why in summer freckles multiply or sunspots — otherwise referred to as lentigines, liver spots or age spots — grow more pronounced.
Shellie Hipsky, CEO of Inspiring Lives International, president of Global Sisterhood and best-selling author, offers her resilient perspective: “As I grow older and I see the hyperpigmentation and my skin change, I still see a healthy, sassy lady in the mirror who strives to be the best version of herself daily.” Like Hipsky, 44, I'm cheering for healthy and sassy. It's what we're all going for, right?
2. Treatments to consider range greatly from mild (conducted in a spa) to intensive (performed in a medical clinic).
Severe cases of hyperpigmentation require high-intervention options, such as laser-treatments and intense peels, conducted in a medical facility, Bwewusa explains. The term “peel” is broad, offering three depths of chemical intervention: light, medium and deep, according to Mayo Clinic. But those performed at a medical spa will be “deep,” an aggressive and effective treatment, though not painful, assures Bwewusa. She advises to plan ahead for some downtime afterward as skin will peel, requiring patients to remain indoors to avoid sunlight during the healing process.
Those with moderate cases of hyperpigmentation can opt for medium-strength peels or microneedling — a technique, according to a Harvard Health Publishing article, using fine needles to stimulate the skin's production of collagen and elastin, characteristics of healthy skin.
If your condition is on the mild side like mine, consult with your esthetician about the best type of facial treatment. I was matched with a peel that “targets uneven skin tone and dull, tired skin that kind of needs to be revived,” says Bwewusa. It's like a deep exfoliating treatment, encouraging cell renewal. As a mild peel, you'll feel a cool, icy sensation due to enzymes at work, which “nibble away the dead skin cells, exfoliating away those dead dark pigmented skin cells,” she explains.
Bwewusa likes pairing this peel with the Elemis White Brightening Pigment Protector. “Your skin will be glowing and you'll feel so good,” she predicts.
Glowing with confidence is contagious and helps us do our work well. Hipksy says that as a midlife woman whose calling is to inspire women around the globe giving empowering talks on stage or in front of a camera, “you better believe I take every step I can to have healthy, radiant skin."
3. At-home care is critical, starting with hats and sunscreen. Apply 30+ sunscreen before heading outdoors, remembering to carry some in your bag so you can reapply throughout the day.
Regarding hats, emblazon this quip in your mind from my Hawks Cay Resort esthetician: “Why do we expect SPF to do all the work? Wear a hat!” Her commonsense but insightful rationale for hats may stick with you — like it has with me.
Bwewusa notes that compared to occasional spa treatments, your daily skin-care regiment will amount to a far superior 365 treatments a year. Use products recommended by your dermatologist or esthetician, she advises. If you do choose over-the-counter skin care, carefully read the label to confirm that the active ingredient (such as vitamins C and A) appears near the top of the list so you don't waste your money on ineffective products.
Hipsky agrees, sharing that her secret to daily living the best version of herself involves “taking precautions with the sun, listening to the experts’ plans for my skin-care routine, and having skin treatments that support me feeling my best."
Kathryn Streeter's writing has appeared in publications including USA Today, the Washington Post and the Week. Find her at kathrynstreeter.com .
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