'I tried everything to fix my severe melasma. This is what finally worked.'

I was 29 when I first started noticing the dark patches around my upper and lower eyelids. At first, I thought it was sun damage, thanks in part to a pair of sunnies I wore that had gaps on the sides, but then it spread across my forehead, down my cheek and joined like a 'pregnancy mask'. It was melasma

And before you ask, I wasn't pregnant.

Many women know that pregnancy is a common cause of melasma, but so are some medications (such as the Pill). As a registered nurse, with much of my experience in the cosmetic industry, I knew instantly that my melasma was triggered by my ongoing gynaecological/hormone issues – a link that has since been confirmed by specialists. 

Watch: Speaking of nurses... here are things nurses never say. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

I have endometriosis and possible polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). My oestrogen levels are sky-high, which researchers say is associated with the development of melasma, while my progesterone is low.

I'm 43 now. And while I'm still searching for a solution to my hormonal issues, over the past 10-plus years during which I started my own skincare brand SQ.N, I have found ways to manage my melasma. Here's what I've learned.


But first, what is melasma?

Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation of the skin, characterised by large, dark patches often on both sides of the face, whereas other types of pigmentation can appear blotchy and in random spots. Another way melasma differs from other types of hyperpigmentation comes down to the impact of hormones, which is why pregnant women are more likely to get melasma and anyone like me with hormonal issues. 

UV light and heat can cause flare-ups, and dermatologists say that stress can play a factor too. In some cases, it can clear on its own if the trigger is addressed, for example after pregnancy or if you stop taking a certain medication. In many cases, it can last for years or a lifetime. 

My melasma can get so bad that it covers my entire face.

 The worst case happened while I was travelling overseas for a wedding in Thailand and then to the UK to visit family. Even though I was protecting my skin, my face went really dark and my pigmentation was even darker. It was awful. People would stare at me and ask what was wrong with my face. My friend's husband thought I had a black eye. I was so self-conscious; it took the fun out of my trip.

'My melasma can get so bad that it covers my entire face.' Image: Supplied.


On a daily basis, working in the cosmetic industry, I was constantly embarrassed by my own face. But I was lucky I had such great relationships with my clients that I could talk about it openly.

Melasma in-clinic treatments.

There are a few different types of in-clinic treatments for melasma. In the past, I've tried a chemical peel called Obagi Clinical Blue Brilliance Triple Acid Peel, which helps to remove excess pigment. I've also tried micro-needling with Factor4, a treatment that involves concentrating your own blood plasma to rejuvenate the skin. I've also tried deep lasers to remove hyperpigmentation. 

Post-treatment. Image: Supplied.


The results of the treatments were amazing, but the biggest issue I had other than the downtime associated with the treatments, the skin peeling and cost (as an example, it's around $2,600 for Factor4) was that my melasma would come back within a few months, because of my underlying hormone issues. It felt pointless. I had to find another way. Something more sustainable. 

My daily melasma skincare and beauty routine.

As I continue to work with specialists to address my hormone issues (so far, NOTHING has worked), what I have found is a way to clear up my melasma and minimise the risk of it returning. 


Image: Before and after melasma treatment journey. Image: Supplied.

Here's the combo that’s been an absolute game-changer for me.

1. Sunscreen.

The first important factor is using a daily sunscreen as UV light can trigger melasma. If you're not protecting the skin, you're going to get more pigmentation and more sun damage.

The best kind of sunscreen is a factor 50+ that protects from both UVB and UVA rays (not all sunscreens protect from both!), and even better if it’s a non-greasy formula combined with a brightening serum. If you have highly sensitive skin, look out for an option that's fragrance-free and PEG-free for max protection and low-to-no toxicity.


2. A good cleanser.

Make sure you've got your skincare basics covered by using the right cleanser for your skin type. Because of my skin, I've found what works for me is a cleanser with AHAs and BHAs to clear up congestion, reduce inflammation and control sebum production. 

3. Vitamin C.

Vitamin C can help reduce the appearance of melasma, while also helping to protect against free radicals and environmental damage. Vitamin C comes in different percentages - 10, 15 and 20 per cent are common - so make sure you check this first as it can cause irritation and even perioral dermatitis, a red rash around the mouth, which is why I couldn’t use vitamin C for ages until I formulated my own 15 per cent version. If you're introducing vitamin C into your skincare routine, I recommend doing so once or twice a week to start and gradually increase it to daily use.

4. A brightening serum.

SQ.N Illuminate. Image: SQ.N/Canva.


A good skin-lightening serum needs to target tyrosinase, the culprit behind those pesky melanin blemishes. I recommend SQ.N Illuminate ($109), which has a blend of ingredients including Kojic acid, tranexamic acid and azelaic acid, and has been shown to reduce tyrosinase by 60 per cent with changes seen after one month of use. 

You can use it to treat all types of uneven skin tone and redness, and if you have had any in-clinic treatments, you can use it afterwards to maintain even skin tone.

5. Colour corrector.

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Vanish. Image: Charlotte Tilbury/Canva.


I learnt this trick from a make-up artist friend of mine, Ash Penfold. To cover up mild pigmentation, she always starts with a colour corrector. Her fave is Charlotte Tilbury Magic Vanish ($51), which comes in different depths so you can find what’s best for your skin.

6. A camouflage foundation.

Estee Lauder Double Wear Maximum Cover Camouflage Makeup. Image: Sephora/Canva.


After applying a colour corrector over dark spots, Ash then says to continue on with your foundation, remembering to start with a light layer and then build up layers on problem areas. Her pick for the job is Estée Lauder Double Wear Maximum Cover Camouflage Makeup ($74), a liquid-crème foundation that's specifically designed to cover up imperfections like pigmentation and works so well it's even used over tattoos. 

I know how frustrating it can be to deal with melasma, so I hope that everything I've gone through to find this mix might be a massive help to you too.

Hannah Cashmore is a cosmetic nurse and the founder of ethically certified skincare brand, SQ.N. Learn more about Hannah’s work at and follow her on Instagram @sqin_care.

Feature image: Supplied via Hannah Cashmore/Canva.

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