By Valerie Brock, Esthetician

For years I hid my skin under a ton of makeup in an effort to create an even skin tone. Are you trying every concealer you can find to hide dark patches and brown spots just to be frustrated at the results? Let me tell you my story.

First off, what are those dark patches and spots? It is called hyperpigmentation and can be caused by sun damage, inflammation, acne or hormonal changes. Sun damage and hormonal changes are the most common causes. Hormonally induced pigment is a condition called melasma. These brown or gray-brown patches caused by melasma mostly appear on the cheeks, forehead, upper lip and chin. Melasma is determined by the symmetry of the patches on each side of the face. This condition worsens with sun exposure and heat and often appears during pregnancy or a change in hormones from birth control pills and may fade after the hormones regulate.

In my case, I developed melasma during my first pregnancy. I had the traditional “mask of pregnancy” as it used to be called. I had very dark brown patches along my cheek bones, on my upper lip and above my eyebrows. I had heard about melasma and did some research on the condition, but I was not too concerned because I thought it would go away after I gave birth.

From an early age I have always been an outdoor girl and a sun worshiper. My pregnancy lasted through the spring and ended in June with the birth of my son. During this time, I was no stranger to the sun and my melasma just got darker and darker.

Over time my melasma faded, but it never completely went away. It was always present like a shadow on my face and any sun exposure would exacerbate it. I had never worn sunscreen daily; I trusted that the sunscreen in my moisturizer or makeup was enough. Clearly, by the pigment on my face, it was not.

Over the years, I tried every facial sunscreen that was available from a drugstore. Even SPF 90 was not helping keep the melasma from darkening. It was becoming very disturbing and effecting my self-esteem, especially in the summer. I was so self-conscious! My lowest point came on a cruise with my family. I followed all the rules: sunscreen before stepping outside, wide brimmed hat, sit in the shade as much as possible, and reapplying sunscreen every hour or so. When I got back to room after the 1st day at the pool, I was horrified! It looked like someone had taken a brown magic marker to my face. I was in tears. How is this possible? I did everything right!

Since starting my journey to become an aesthetician, I learned not only the importance of wearing sunscreen every day, but the importance of a physical sunscreen for anyone with pigment issues. Chemical sunscreens absorb the rays of the sun, break them up and scatter and create heat. Your skin absorbs the chemical sunscreen, so you still receive enough exposure to darken the pigment. This is the issue with most moisturizers and makeup that contain SPF. Physical sunscreens are a necessity for anyone with pigment, sun spots, acne scarring and even aging skin. Physical sunscreens contain the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and lay on top of the skin to reflect the rays of the sun, which prevents exposure. They also protect the skin from environmental pollutants.

My new knowledge and witnessing the improvement of my melasma have made me a physical sunscreen junkie. I will not wear anything else. Now we have access to physical sunscreens that are

tinted, hydrating, and that are even stand-alone anti-aging moisturizers. If you want to see an improvement in your skin from something as simple (and necessary) as a sunscreen, as well as other treatments aimed to treat melasma, see our well-trained aestheticians at Spa Cahaba