Before looking at the affects of stress on skin conditions such as Melasma, and in particular answering the question “could stress be causing my Melasma?”, lets look at what exactly Melasma or Chloasma is.
What is Melasma?
Melasma or chloasma is a common skin condition which affects adults. Melasma (chloasma) forms patches of excess pigmentation which is mainly on the face. Pigmentation can be light brown, dark brown or greyish in colour and usually on the face. The pigmentation is not raised and typical distribution pattens for melasma on the face are usually roughly symmetrically on the central face, cheeks or around the mouth. Melasma most commonly affects women and often first presents during pregnancy. Though more common in women, men can be affected.
Though not strictly speaking sun damage, Melasma or Chloasma usually becomes more noticeable in the summer and improves during the winter months. The condition isn’t any form of allergy, nor is it contagious.
What causes Melasma (Chloasma)?
Melasma is a darkening caused by melanocytes (pigment producing cells in the skin) Melanocyte-stimulating hormones (MSH) are responsible for melasma. These hormones stimulate the production of melanin. In both humans and animals an increase in MSH causes an increase in skin darkening. There are several contributing factors to an imbalance of MSH, including pregnancy, hormonal drugs such as the contraceptive pill, and very occasionally medical conditions affecting hormone levels. Some cosmetics, especially those containing perfume, can bring on melasma. Sunshine and the use of sun-beds usually worsen any tendency to melasma. melasma also displays an inherited tendency, often being prevalent in several family members.
Could Stress Be Causing My Melasma?
Stress of any kind causes an adaptive response from your body. The stress response begins in the hypothalmus region of the brain. which sends a signal to the pituitary gland to secrete adreno-corticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol (the bodies stress hormone). The adrenal glands then convert cholesterol in the blood into pregnenolone which is the building block for both sex hormones and the stress hormone, cortisol. When the body is under chronic stress, the adrenal glands can’t keep up the output of cortisol. This is referred to as adrenal fatigue. The body then converts pregnenolone into cortisol, limiting what’s available for producing sex hormones. In women, the result can be a lowering of testosterone and therefore a reduction in sex drive. But also rather worryingly this can also lower levels of progesterone which alters the balance of progesterone to estrogen. And, here is the connection to melasma; it is elevated estrogen, or estrogen not in balance with progesterone increases the Melanocyte-stimulating hormones (MSH) and this causes an increase in skin darkening or melasma. So in short if you want to know could stress be causing my melasma, the answer is yes. If not directly then it could certainly be adding to the problem.
How To Cure Melasma Caused By Stress
Melasma can come and go. There will be times in your life when your body is under more hormonal stress such as pregnancy, during adrenal fatigue or if it is being interfered with by artificial hormones such as those found in the pill. Hormonal stress can be reduced in many cases by finding an alternative non hormonal form of contraception and ensuring you maintain a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, regular sleep patterns and a healthy level of exercise. Too much exercise can be counter productive by raising cortisol levels. Aim for around 30 to 45 minutes of varied exercise a day but also allow one exercise free day a week.
Adrenal fatigue happens when you have become highly stressed over a long period. This can as we have already discussed, aggravate melasma. If you have adrenal fatigue then you may have other symptoms such as tiredness which does not get better with rest, aches and pains, cravings for salt, low sex drive, decreased ability to handle stress etc.
To overcome adrenal fatigue it is beneficial to have a nutrient dense diet, avoid caffeine and other stimulants and take regular gentle exercise.
Cosmetic Treatments To get Rid Of Melasma
There are a number of cosmetic treatments for melasma which make use of effective ingredients such as hydroquinone, kojic Acid, retinol and L ascorbic acid. These products are powerful cosmeceauticals and pharmaceuticals by Obagi Medical and Medik8 amongst others.
Read more about Melasma treatment >>