Health, Beauty & Wellness

My Cure for Melasma

February 4, 2013
By Nadia Dulyn

In my battle with melasma, I learned that our skin reflects our overall health – revealing much more about our wellness than what’s visible on the surface.

My Cure for Melasma

Sved Oliver / 123RF Photo

Five years ago, seemingly out of nowhere, I started to notice dark blotches on my cheeks, jawline and forehead. After years of dealing with adult acne, which appeared when I turned 30 and eventually led me to try power drug Accutane, I was facing something new and equally heartbreaking: melasma.

At the time, it was my worst nightmare. What caused it? Why me? And how would I restore my beautiful skin after finally kicking the acne? I started to avoid leaving the house, only going out with layers of heavy makeup in an effort to conceal the growing dark areas that covered most of my face. I felt alone in my tortured state — without answers.

The effort to find a cure began. I saw doctor after doctor and spent a small fortune on chemical peels, microdermabrasion, LED facials, OTC (over the counter) remedies, prescription drugs and more.

Meanwhile, my health waned. I was depressed, had adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance, digestion disorders, liver congestion, heavy metal toxicity and more. I didn’t realize that my overall health issues were related to my persistent skin problems. The doctors I saw would only focus on one particular issue, not the big picture, prescribing drugs to fix one thing and then another.

When I began my initial treatments for the dark skin blotches, my condition was referred to as hyperpigmentation — not melasma. I eventually learned they are two very separate conditions. The spots on my forehead, although as prominent as those on my cheeks and jawline, would vanish in months with mild treatment. The dark spots on my cheeks remained until I learned about the source of my condition.

What is melasma?

Melasma is often called “pregnancy mask” because it’s associated with hormonal imbalances (specifically estrogen dominance) during pregnancy, contraception use and HRT (hormone replacement therapy) although some dermatologists also include sun exposure. Since I couldn’t look to any of these as the reasons for my problem, I continued to be mystified as to how I ended up with this condition.

Finally turning to holistic medicine, I discovered that the effects of various prescriptions (Accutane, anti-malaria pills, anti-depressants) had triggered my problem. I began to read voraciously about skincare and alternative health. It would be through books, websites and relentless inquiries that I would educate myself and finally meet a talented esthetician and later a naturopath who would both change not only my skin but my life.

I’m convinced now that it was anti-malaria pills (that I took before a trip to the Dominican Republic) and particularly the Accutane that was responsible for the change in my skin pigment — years after I’d discontinued using it. Even though there is no “scientific proof” that it causes melasma, dermatologists agree that Accutane increases photosensitivity. For years I’d been taking prescription after prescription, and the more drugs I took, the more my health deteriorated. That finally began to change when I sought natural treatments with a holistic approach.

“Less is more” skin care approach

One of the key players in my return to healthy skin is Annalee Stone. Stone operates Stone Skin Care in Los Angeles. Her skincare education exceeds the level required for an esthetician license and includes an associate of science degree and bachelor’s degree equivalent in molecular/cellular biology. She has had 50 clients who’ve suffered from melasma and hyperpigmentation and says that 85 percent who continued treatment saw significant improvement and lightening in their skin. She attributes her success to organic products and a “less is more” approach.

Stone says she discovered that scientific methods do not always hold up for skincare. “I assumed formulas created in the lab would be more effective but I found the exact opposite to be true,” she said. “The chemical formulas are degenerative and too harsh on delicate facial skin. Organic products are more regenerative.”

Stone understood my concerns immediately. Her treatment for melasma is a simple facial that includes a peel and manual microdermabrasion (using a handheld tool that gives her more control without suction or abrasion). She said it doesn’t make sense to use a microdermabrasion machine because it can weaken collagen and elastin in the skin as well as break capillaries.

Her suggestions for my home routine started with a few changes that included less but more effective products and gentle care. Most recently, I added an experimental 100 percent plant-based serum (Organic Skin Face Serum by Self Health Revolution) that would be the next big step to eliminating nearly all of my melasma plus other benefits such as clarity, smoothness and anti-aging.

Stone prides herself on constantly keeping up with skincare education and giving her clients only the best treatment and honest advice. Her view on medical approach to skincare by typical dermatologists is equally zealous: “Doctors are not in the business of curing any skin issues,” she said. “It’s more profitable to give patients prescription medicine long term.”

I could totally relate to that!

Treating the underlying cause

I still had my internal health problems to conquer. Simultaneously suffering from fatigue, poor digestion and a variety of other symptoms led me to seek out holistic and alternative medicine.

Enter Jennifer Abercrombie, board certified Naturopathic Doctor at Naturopathic Wellness Center. She treats health concerns internally with a holistic approach. I came to her with my various physical symptoms and the suspicion that my melasma was somehow connected.

Dr. Jenny, as she likes her patients to call her, explained that our goal would be to discover and treat the underlying factors. She addressed my hormonal imbalance by treating chronic stress, adrenal dysfunction, thyroid disorder, congested liver and gut inflammation — all symptoms related to the melasma.

Her treatment started with an anti-inflammatory diet with the goal of improving the gut function and hormone metabolism. Next, she focused on supporting liver function by adding foods to my diet containing turmeric, ginger and cilantro. Then she wanted me to reduce stress with herbs such as avena, crataegus, and valerian root. Finally, we needed to support my adrenals with proper amounts of sleep and balanced nutrition. Supplements such as vitamin C, the B vitamins, rhodiola, ashwaganda, and holy basil were introduced.

“Results can take months depending on the patient,” Dr. Jenny said. “Holistic methods take time and are not an overnight miracle. But in the end, they do work, without the side effects typically associated with perscription medication, if you adhere to the treatment.”

Traditional methods to treat melasma

In contrast, traditional medical professionals address melasma from a very different approach. I asked Dr. Ella Fedonenko, a board-certified internist with vast experience in dermatology, about her skincare practices regarding melasma. She said her approach is based on approved medical techniques with proven results. When asked about a natural approach, she stated “There’s no scientific evidence that any of the holistic skincare treatments work for melasma.”

Instead, Dr. Fedonenko prescribes topicals like hydroquinone, steroid creams, isotretinoin and triple-combination creams to lighten dark spots. And for more sensitive skin, she uses a non-hydroquionone product, Vivite Vibrance — a prescription grade therapy that evens out overall skin tone.

For faster results, she says that IPL photofacial (intense pulsed light) gets an 80-90 percent success rate among her patients. The treatment requires an average of 3-4 sessions in 4 week intervals to achieve visible results. Typically a single session costs $300. Whether you treat by laser or prescription topical creams, she always recommends strong sunscreens to protect the face from sun damage.

Ultimately, the holistic protocol paired with my skincare routine was the solution for me, because it treated my symptoms from the inside while correcting my melasma. Once my hormones started to balance out my numerous health issues stabilized and I noticed that my skin was visibly returning to its normal pigmentation. Now in my final stages of restoring my skin (and overall health), I can say that the journey made me a proponent of natural health care.

Where it all started

I believe my melasma developed from the use of prescription medication. Desperate to eliminate my chronic acne and turning to Accutane, I inadvertently started a domino effect that would lead to problems with my hormones and liver. The problems only escalated with each drug. Eventually the source of my poor health was buried under years of misdiagnosed and mistreated conditions until I took my health into my own hands.

Changing the way we think, live and treat our bodies is a necessity to overcoming the challenges of melasma and the underlying health issues that cause it. If you’re a woman plagued by melasma, know that you are not alone and there is hope.

Copyright © Nadia Dulyn/2013 Singular Communications, LLC.

Nadia DulynSingularCity member Nadia Dulyn, born in the Big Apple, brings an authentic New York point of view to her writing along with her passion for understanding people and the misconceptions of a single lifestyle. She launched her first career as an Art Director in New York City and continues to freelance bicoastal. As a self-proclaimed oenophile and foodie, she is always looking for new places to tempt her palette both locally and globally. 
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  4. Tracker Lady says:

    Hi Nadia,
    What do you recommend in my case; I have had Melasma for 15 + years. When I stopped taking birth control pills about that time shortly after I started noticing the dark spots on my cheeks. I know I have hormonal imbalance but, overall, it has not created any other health problems only the Melasma. I try to eat as healthy as possible and work out 3-4 times a week. I do not take any meds only supplements. Your help will be greatly appreciated as I want to take care my Melasma naturally from the inside out.

  5. Hello all,

    I so understand your concern for melasma. I work with Michael Zenn, the creator of Herbal Face Food™ We have very few people selling. Here is the link for purchasing: http://synergiesforhealth.com/products/herbal-face-food-2-oz/

    We ship worldwide…

    Nadia, we thank you for your post, we have had many use for melasma…I do very much agree with Nadia that internal health is very important to skin recovery.

    Nadia, if I can help you with anything please let me know. We are reaching out to Australians!

    Peace, Monique

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  7. Zena says:

    Hi Nadia
    Your article was very informative. I live in Australia & I have been suffering from melasma for the past 8 years. It started gradually a few tiny blotches on the right cheek, then a couple of years later on the left & now on the bridge of my nose.
    I was on Roaccutane to treat acne about 15 years ago & also had anti-malaria pills when I took a trip to India about 10 years ago.
    I have tried everything but to no avail & I certainly would like to give this Organic Skin Face Serum a try especially since the composition is plant based. Now my task is to find the supplier.
    Thank you

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  9. fatima carrasco says:

    Hi,I too have melasma,I’m from Philippines,where can I buy the serum,or what are the ingredients…please Nadia help me….I have no money to buy expensive med for it….. I’ll wait for your kind reply on my Facebook…fatimacarrasco26@yahoo.com….thanks:-)

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  11. sally says:

    Hi. Im suffering from melasma too. Where can I get the herbal face food. Tq

  12. K Tomson says:

    Is the product the Organic Herbal Face Food? I cannot find Organic Skin Face Serum.

  13. Simone says:

    Thank you for this information. I’ve suffered from melasma for the last eight years and have tried everything from skin treatments to a vegan and raw lifestyle. But absolutely nothing works. I recently started taking iodine for thyroid care and then someone mentioned adrenal fatigue, so I’ve been obsessively reading every article on the internet about it. There is no doubt this is the underlying cause to my melasma. That and the years of anti-depressants (that I stopped in March) and the birth control I took in my teens and 20s. So now I’m trying out the herbs many people have mentioned for adrenal fatigue and I’m hoping for the best. I hate looking in the mirror and I’m so tired of spending money on stuff that only makes it worse. I think eventually I’ll get to the place of acceptance, but until then, I’ll keep trying.

    It’s good to know I’m not alone in this annoying and embarrassing skin problem.

  14. Hazel says:

    I love your website and I truly believe adrenal fatigue/hormones are the root causes of melasma. Do you have any recommendations for Naturopaths in MN?

  15. Sam says:

    Hi this is a very interesting read… Especially as I too have been treated for acne resulting in the use of roaccutane to finally clear up my face… 2 years ago ( a couple of years after ending my acne treatment) I developed melasma under my eyes. I imediately came off the pill and have just finished using hydroquine to help fade my marks. I obviously also religiously wear the higest UVA and UVB protection to minimise increase of pigmentation….. However this has been successful in places but brown patches still appear and in some cases original marks have not faded.,. Despite even keeping myself indoors to avoid sun exposure whenever possible. I believe that the hydroquine has thinned my delicate skin around the treated areas and therefore has encouraged more damage. As you probably can relate I am desperate to eventually get clear skin…. I am only 26 and so far have only been able to enjoy roughly 2 years of decent skin where I haven’t had to plaster my self in make up to leave the house….. I too suffered from depression whilst battling acne and I can feel myself slipping back as my skin leaves me feeling so self conscious and ugly (I know there are much more important things in life than skin condition but I find it so emotionally draining). due to my previous experience with prescription medication I have been recently googling other links and internal treatments for melasma. I have brought a night cream rich in vitemin E and am taking vitemin C and zinc tablets to strengthen my skins ability to repair hoping this will help decrease/ stop the increase of the ageing effect previous treatments are having on my eye area and overall skin condition.

    I am extremely interested in any information you can give me on how you beat your condition from the Inside out as I am sick of all these medicines and agree that they will be the root of the ongoing problems I have had with my skin. I have always had slow digestion and had jaundice when I was born so am leaning towards obtaining a healthy liver as a start. I currently have very little knowledge of this and how it can help me. I am Hoping you could give me any specific info I could follow to get myself started.

    Thank you in advance

    • Nadia says:

      Sam, I empathize with your struggle to achieve better skin and health. My journey was long and frustrating. However I am not a medical professional so I cannot diagnose your condition or recommend treatments. I can suggest you find a NaturoPathic doctor near you to create a customized protocol to treat your melasma from the inside. It’s a process that requires time and experimentation to achieve results. Also a healthy balanced diet is a great start. I eliminated processed foods, gluten, sugar and GMOs. And of course a good skincare routine is vital. Keep it simple and natural. Find an aesthetician that uses natural products and has a “less is more” approach. Remember to stay positive and patient about your progress, you will reach your goals. Good luck!

  16. Lorraine Weinzimmer says:

    My daughter had beautiful skin, she is 33 not having children. How can I help her? I saw here 7 months ago and she was beautiful, In love with a man who has two children who love her but she has put on 25 lbs and is so self conscious. Please help me to help her!

    • Nadia says:

      Thank you for reading my article. Since I have had much success with the holistic approach to health I wanted to share my story. However I can not offer individual medical advice. I highly recommend finding a local naturopath to advice you on your personal health concerns. I wish you all good health.
      @Robbyn russell: The serum is called Organic Skin Face Serum by Self Health Revolution. Please be aware that it is only one of the many steps that led to my skincare success. Internal health is a key component to beautiful skin.

  17. Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favourite reason seemed to be on the net the easiest factor to keep in mind of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think about issues that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also outlined out the entire thing without having side-effects , other folks could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thank you

  18. Robbyn russell says:

    Hi Nadia,

    I too, enjoyed your article. What is the serum called they you believe helped in clearing your melasma?

    • Nadia says:

      @Robbyn russell: The serum is called Organic Skin Face Serum by Self Health Revolution. Please be aware that it is only one of the many steps that led to my skincare success. Internal health is a key component to beautiful skin.

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