Experts are still unclear of all of the causes of melasma, though hormones are widely believed to be its primary cause. It is suspected that inflammation and free radicals also cause it, like other forms of hyperpigmentation, since they have the ability to alter DNA and interrupt normal cell processes.
The cells that produce melanin pigment in the body are called melanocytes, and they are located in the deepest layer of the epidermis (outermost layer of skin), commonly referred to as the basal layer. The primary purpose of melanin pigment in the body is protection from UV radiation. UV radiation creates free radicals in the skin, thus the melanocytes jump into action, producing more melanin pigment to fight them off. It is a fact that excessive sun exposure causes hyperpigmentation in general, and that it can exacerbate melasma; but most experts do not believe the sun alone is responsible for melasma.
Melanocytes are tricky cells. They are easily triggered as part of the body’s inflammatory response process if they feel the skin or body is unbalanced. Drastic changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone can trigger these cells and cause them to produce more melanin pigment.
The American Academy of Dermatology also suggests that the use of irritant cosmetic products or treatments may also cause melasma.
But I can’t control my hormone levels…can I?
Many people believe that their hormonal activity is out of their control. And this is mostly true. However, from a holistic perspective, there may be some dietary issues that either mimic or trigger hormonal activity. Many foods that are high in sugar, gluten, and yeast can have an estrogenic effect on the body. These foods also feed and breed Candida, causing an overgrowth of this fungus which leads to more inflammation, free radical production, and degradation of the immune system. Certain medications and chemical ingredients can also produce an estrogenic effect in the body.
Stress can also make hormonal imbalances worse.
While it is not possible to fully control hormone levels in the body, there are some dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as relaxation and stress reduction techniques you can try to even them out a bit.