October 2014 July 2017
My Journey With Melasma
Burned in my brain is the day that I looked in the mirror and saw that speck of dirt on my nose. Well, at least what I thought was dirt. Yet, when I tried to rub it off, it didn’t budge. I remember later on that day, trying to scrub it with a washcloth. No luck. The brown spot remained. “What the hell?!” I thought to myself. “That wasn’t there yesterday!”
Fast forward a few months and that brown patch had spread. It spread down the bridge of my nose and onto my cheek. I watched it, I obsessed about it, but yet I didn’t have a clue what it was. At first I thought it was a sunspot, but why was it continuing to spread into one giant patch covering my nose and upper cheeks, in a symmetrical pattern under my eyes? It made no sense that a sunspot would get so large and so dark.
As months went on it continued to spread and get darker until eventually it was all over my face. My life became an endless circle of googling for answers and trying to find makeup that would cover it up (anyone with melasma knows that’s a nearly impossible task). The first couple years I didn’t have a name for it. I’d learned the term hyperpigmentation but that can entail a lot of things and didn’t really give me the answers I needed.
I kept googling and searching and reading every forum I could find but most of the information was filled with quick-fixes that others were trying…but that I’d yet to read or see any proof actually worked. Still, I tried them all because at least I was doing something, at least there was some hope in these quick fixes. I tried lemon juice on my face, ACV internally and externally, aloe vera, hydrogen peroxide, kojic acid, MSM, turmeric masks, and the list goes on. I’d try each treatment for a few weeks, then give up because I’d find some other thing online that someone said might work. Doctors offered me hydroquinone, but I always said no because my gut told me that wasn’t the right answer. As desperate as I was, I wasn’t willing to go that route. I’d heard too many risks associated with it and had seen other melasma sufferers say that it worked for them for a while, only to have the melasma reappear even worse later on. I knew that getting to the root cause was the only real answer in healing my skin.
It’s Called Melasma
As my google searches continued I finally found a post that told me the brown spots had a name. Melasma. This was a word I’d never heard of, but the more I read, I knew that’s what I had. I finally had a name for it. So it gave me something new to google. Melasma fade, melasma treat, melasma cure…I googled anything and everything I could think of. I’m sure those of you with mealasma can relate!
Keep in mind, in the meantime, my skin had gotten so bad that I hated going out in public. I always felt like my skin was the elephant in the room. That thing that people noticed but didn’t dare say anything about. And I didn’t dare bring it up. In fact, I never talked about it. Ever. I was so self-conscious about my skin that over time, I became isolated from friends and relationships suffered. It wasn’t only my skin issues that made it hard to socialize. At the same time, I was dealing with terrible migraines and severe menstrual cramps, so I was on an array of medications (tramadol for cramps, Excedrin and/or maxalt for headaches). I basically felt like crap all the time. I’d also developed an autoimmune disease called Raynauds Syndrome. And on top of everything, I couldn’t sleep. No matter how hard I tried, I’d wake up between 2:00-4:00 am and would feel like I was having panic attacks that would keep me up the rest of the night.
The Blogpost That Helped Me Change My Life
While dealing with so much, keeping to myself seemed like the only thing I could manage to do. I’d walk my dog (thank God for him, my sweet sidekick), go walk dogs for my business, come home and spend my free time googling for answers. This was how I spent my days. So when I finally found this article from Healthy Living How To, it was A VERY BIG DEAL! For once, I felt like I had a real answer. Not a magic potion or supplement that never actually did anything to help, but a real answer. I may not have understood everything she said about hormones and adrenal fatigue but I knew it was finally explaining a real mechanism behind melasma.
While the sun certainly makes melasma and hyperpigmentation worse, its not the actual root cause. After reading that blogpost, my gut said that my hormones (including adrenals) were playing a very big role for me.
My newest term to google was adrenal fatigue. I read anything and everything I could find about adrenal fatigue. I was beginning to understand the hormonal connection and all about cortisol, our stress hormone. I also ordered the book that she mentions in her blogpost, The Hormone Cure, by Dr. Sara Gottfried. I read the book and loved it and I started making some changes based on what I read but I still didn’t know exactly how to fix my issue.
“When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Appear”
The Summer of 2013, I was visiting a friend in Carolina Beach and we started talking about how we love audio. At the time, I was listening to audio books everyday while I was at work. My friend mentioned podcasts. I’d never listened to a podcast so being curious, I decided to search for episodes with Dr. Sara Gottfried. Obviously hormones and melasma were the only things on my mind! Low and behold there were two interviews with Dr. Gottfried on The Balanced Bites podcast with Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe. I remember thinking, “Isn’t Balanced Bites that paleo website? Why would they be interviewing a doctor? What did food have to do with my hormones?”
I downloaded both episodes and listened to them on my road trip back to Richmond. I was glued to the interviews, intrigued by everything they talked about. I listened to each episode twice and when I got home I downloaded more episodes from Balanced Bites about adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance. Eventually I listened to every single episode (many two or three times) and eventually caught up to the current ones and still listen to them even today. Hello Thursday mornings!
Along the way, I started to learn about the connection between our diet + lifestyle choices and our physiology. In other words, how we live and eat and move our body, effects how we look and feel. Food does matter when it comes to hormones. It’s not the only thing that matters, but it absolutely matters. Lifestyle choices, like stress and sleep, are also crucial when it comes to hormones.
Over the years I’ve taken a few courses from Diane and bought Liz’s Skincare Guide. I’ve learned so much from both of them that has helped me know how to help myself. I did the work, but their teachings empowered me to know I was capable of making changes. It was the first time I felt like there was hope in me getting better and I’m forever grateful!
Fast forward, to today, I’ve become a Nutritional Therapy Consultant and a 21 Day Sugar Detox coach. A combination of blog posts, podcasts, books, my naturopathic doctor, and the Nutritional Therapy Association, the school I attended to become a certified nutritionist, have all been my teachers. They’ve all been part of helping me get better.
My Melasma Is Healing
While working with my naturopath, I was able to remove all medications (migraine meds, pain meds, NSAIDS etc) from my life, worked on healing leaky gut, and nourishing my very neglected liver with the nutrients it needed. Despite the temptation to use intense skin treatments, I switched to gentle, all-natural skincare. I also became very protective of my time, in order to keep my stress levels as low as possible. Which for me meant not overscheduling my days and not over-exercising, both big stressors. Any type of stress raises cortisol, which can lead to skin darkening.
Today, I get far fewer headaches and my menstrual cramps are pretty much non-existent. I would say my skin is 70% better than it was at its worst point. And that’s with a setback. A year and a half ago, I’d say it was more like 85% faded, but the past year or so I’ve had more stress and let nsaids creep back into my life, both of which have affected my skin. It’s definitely frustrating, but the great news is, it’s confirmed that the changes I made, actually were the things that helped me heal.
The things I’m staying focused on are the health of my gut and liver, eating a nutrient-dense diet, gentle skincare, and getting plenty of sleep. Sleep is so often taken for granted in today’s society, but I believe there is nothing more healing for our hormones than sleep!
These photos were taken three and half years apart, with my phone, in outdoor ligthing and no makeup. Don’t ask me what made take the first photo?! I remember not even wanting it on my camera roll because it was just so bad. But something told me that I might be glad to have it one day so I would be reminded how far I’d come. You can see in the more recent photo that my skin is far from perfect but it’s SO much better. All the changes and work have been more than worth it!
There Is Hope In Treating Melasma Naturally
I know some of you suffering with melasma have already read the blogpost from Healthy Living How To. I’ve even seen people upset that she doesn’t explain EXACTLY how she reversed her melasma. I completely understand that you just want answers. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent endless hours looking online for answers and now you just want someone to tell you exactly what to do.
I even remember a few years ago saying “I just wish someone would tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!”. I was willing and motivated to make changes but I didn’t know what those changes should be.
It would actually be irresponsible of Vanessa, the author of that blogpost, to have written out the exact protocol her functional practitioner put her on. She worked with her doctor for years and did bloodwork numerous times and her doctor gave her a protocol specific to her. We’re all very unique and her needs are not necessarily the same as mine or yours.
So instead of getting frustrated that THE answer hasn’t appeared, be grateful that you have at least one stepping stone toward healing.
You have a lot of info at this point that can help guide you to the next step. That blogpost changed my life not because it gave me ALL the answers, but because it was a stepping stone to the answers. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I promise, if you keep searching and learning, you will find the answers you need. You are capable of making changes. Please know it’s definitely not hopeless!
I’m not your practitioner so I can’t tell you exactly what your hormones are doing, but I can offer support and help guide you. Here is another post I wrote about what I believe has helped my skin the most. And I strongly recommend that you find a functional practitioner or naturopath (I have a naturopath who I work with) who can help you test your hormones and get to the root cause. As far as food and lifestyle choices go, I can help with that! In fact, it’s what I’m certified to do!
There are more posts to come all about melasma and the changes I made to help me start getting better. The best way to get notified about new posts and events is to get on my email list which you can do here! You’ll be notified as soon as a new post goes up
If you have melasma, hyperpigmentation, or other skin issues, I’d love to know what else you’d like to read about!
Here are a few posts I was thinking about doing:
- The connection between stress and melasma
- What is leaky gut and how does it effect our skin?
- My all-natural skincare routine
- How to nourish your liver naturally
Comment below to let me know and thanks for taking the time to read this!!