Ahhh! Spring has sprung and summer is just around the corner. If you’re like me, you’ve been enjoying the option of running outside without the complications of layers and frozen eyelashes. There’s nothing more amazing than those first few sunshine filled runs after a long winter of treadmills and hibernation.
I’ve always been a sun-lover, but my relationship with that bright yellow orb has become somewhat complicated over the past few summers. We all know that sweaty running can bring with it a host of inconvenient problems, such as chafing, acne, and weird tan lines. It’s a trade-off for being able to enjoy the myriad benefits of endorphins and vitamin D. I have a problem, however, that is becoming a major source of self-consciousness: the upper lip tan.
I lovingly refer to this as my Dirty Sweatstache or my Sweaty Runstache. Call it what you want, but it is a problem. After a few years of feeling insecure and having to find correct picture angles and Instagram filters that minimize the look of my ‘stache, I finally decided to consult a dermatologist to get some answers about what this is and how I can get rid of it.
Apparently melasma, as dermatologists call my ‘stache, is a fairly common condition in women. Melasma is essentially hyper pigmentation caused by an increase in melanin. The result is skin discoloration, primarily on the face but also on other highly sun-exposed parts of the body. Some melasma shows up as brown, blotchy patches on the nose, forehead or chin, while some appear as a dark shadow on the upper lip.
Several things contribute to the sunshine ‘stache. Pregnancy is a common cause (NO, I am NOT pregnant). When this condition happens during pregnancy it is called cholasma and is sometimes referred to as “the mask of pregnancy.” Other causes are the use of hormonal birth control, sun exposure, the use of certain medications, and hypothyroidism. People who are more likely to develop this condition are those who tan easily or have naturally darker skin to begin with and it often happens in areas that sweat a lot, like the upper lip.
As someone who does have naturally tan skin, frequent exposure to the sun, and an underactive thyroid, I guess this makes me the perfect candidate for melasma. Fan-freaking-tastic!
After visiting with the dermatologist, this is what was recommended/prescribed:
1. WEAR SUNSCREEN. My doctor recommends a minimum of SPF 30 on the face, but ideally SPF 50. Sunscreen should be worn year-round, not only in the summer, as UV rays are still very damaging in the winter even if they don’t appear to affect your skin. Due to the location of my melasma, a great waterproof/sweatproof sunscreen will be key, as my upper lip tends to collect a great deal of sweat when I exercise.
2. Topical Retin-A cream (tretinoin). This is a cream that promotes healthy cell turnover and can be used on the entire face. It is meant to be used at night, and can be used daily if your skin tolerates it. Retin-A minimizes the appearance of sun damage, fine lines, and makes your skin feel smoother. This cream can also make skin more sensitive to sunlight, which is another reason why a strong SPF should be used regularly.
3. Topical Hydroquinone cream. This cream, used over time, can help fade or minimize the appearance of skin discoloration. It is recommended to be used twice daily on the affected area for three months, followed by a three month break before resuming use again, indefinitely if needed.
There is, unfortunately, no quick-fix for my ‘stache. The doctor said that it can take several months to see the full benefits of this regimen. Additionally, because there are no medical dangers associated with my melasma, it is unlikely my insurance provider will provide coverage for the topical creams, which can be somewhat pricey if paid out of pocket. Another option, since it is only a cosmetic disorder, is to do nothing and simply embrace, or even flaunt, it.
While I was hoping for a fast fix for my ever darkening lip shadow, I will likely begin the recommended regimen soon in hopes that I might be sweatstache-free by Labor Day. The good news is that this condition will likely subside at menopause, so I guess I can start cheering on the advancement of my biological clock!
Do you have melasma? How do you deal with it?