When I became pregnant with my oldest son, all my friends talked about was the “glow” of pregnancy. Apparently, all those extra hormones give women thick, shiny hair and glowing skin.
I imagined the transformation to be not unlike the scene in Twilight where Bella is finally transformed into a vampire, only instead of venom coursing through my veins, it would be estrogen. I was excited.
But six months into the pregnancy, all I had was a mustache. Not a typical mustache that I could actually get rid of, but a cluster of brown spots in the shape of a mustache. Not cool. What started as a mustache eventually spread over my entire face until I looked like someone who fell asleep on the beach with my glasses on.
Melasma: The Mask of Pregnancy
Melasma often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy,” is a skin condition that results in grey to brown spots on the skin. It is caused by an increase in estrogen and progesterone and is exacerbated by the sun and heat. Because melasma occurs when hormones increase, it can pop up during pregnancy, or while taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. For some women, melasma gradually disappears and doesn’t come back. Other women, like myself, have resistant melasma that comes back the first warm day of spring and doesn’t settle down until well into winter.
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After nursing my first son, my dermatologist prescribed the standard treatment; a compound cream of hydroquinone, tretinoin, and corticosteroids. I used the cream for three months and saw decent results, but then became pregnant with my second son and had to stop. On my second round of treatment, I used the cream for the maximum recommended time, six months, and I felt pretty good about how my face looked.
But then, summertime hit. My family took a trip to the beach where I religiously coated my face and body with sunscreen, wore a hat the whole time, and even brought a hand fan. It was no use.
The melasma came back almost overnight. Six months of daily application of prescription medication down the drain. It was a frustrating cycle that I would repeat each year, until this past year.
MOXI Laser Treatment
This past October, when summer had passed and the kids had gone back to school, I booked my quarterly botox appointment. One of the nurse practitioners in the office asked how my summer had been, and if I was still feeling good about my skin. I let her know Botox was still my main beauty routine, but that I was frustrated by the resiliency of my melasma.
She told me they had recently brought in a new laser called MOXI, and she thought it would do wonders for my melasma. MOXI is a non-ablative laser, meaning it doesn’t create an open wound on the skin, so it’s more comfortable and the recovery time is a lot faster. It’s also safe for all skin tones. I could get in to the science of it for you, but I’m not a doctor and that’s why I put my trust in an experienced professional. I felt comfortable with the treatment plan suggested, and I jumped at the chance to try it.
I showed up at the office on the day of my laser appointment with a clean face, no make-up, and my hair pulled back. My face was photographed to document improvements. Next, I went to a patient room where a thick layer of numbing gel was put on my face. It took 45 minutes for the gel to work, so I sat back, scrolled social media, and enjoyed the excuse to do nothing.
After the wait time was up, my face felt numb. It felt like your mouth at the dentist when you get a cavity filled, but just on the surface, not nearly as deep. She leaned my chair back as they do at the dentist and wiped off the gel, put protective goggles over my eyes, and did a small test spot with the laser to make sure I felt comfortable with the sounds and sensations.
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I was immediately surprised at how little the laser hurt. I expected much worse. It felt like a tiny static shock on my skin. A lot of people describe a laser as a “rubber band snap,” and that sounds painful to me! This was not like that.
Once I was comfortable and ready to go, she started to gently roll the instrument she was using down my cheeks, eventually going over my entire face. It felt and sounded like static electricity. The entire process took less than 10 minutes and I was done! She wiped my face down with a cooling cream, applied sunscreen, and I was out the door.
I was told that within a short time my skin would start to feel very hot, like the worst sunburn of my life, and that’s pretty accurate. My face did heat up like it was burning, but it didn’t last long enough to even bother with Advil, and pressing my cool hands on my cheeks gave me enough relief. Within an hour or two the sensation was gone, but the redness stayed.
The next day I noticed what looked like tiny specs of dirt on my skin. It was actually microscopic epidermal necrotic debris (MENDs) and felt like very fine sandpaper. This sounds uncomfortable, but it was barely noticeable. I’d been living with pigmentation during the summer for years, so it didn’t bother me. I had a birthday dinner that evening and put tinted moisturizer on as normal. The texture of my skin was rougher, so the coverage wasn’t as smooth but nothing a little patio lighting couldn’t disguise. There was no point in the entire process where I felt the need to hide my face or avoid people.
The following days were pretty uneventful. My face felt comfortable and my skin felt slightly rough. Within three to four days the little particles of MENDs started to come off when I would wash and dry my face. What was left behind looked like fresh pink skin, similar to the skin around a cut that is healing or when a scab comes off.
Within a week I was stunned at how great my skin looked. The nurse practitioner told me my skin would continue to improve in tone and texture over the next eight to twelve weeks but I was beyond thrilled just one week out! What the MOXI laser did in one session was beyond what my compound cream had ever done. My melasma lightened dramatically and as a bonus, my skin appeared smoother and more moisturized.
A New Tool in My Beauty Toolbox
Will my melasma come back after the MOXI laser? If I’m exposed to sun and heat, it will. I have resistant melasma, and I have to stay on top of it. I continue to use sunscreen every day and wear hats when I’m outside, but living in the Texas heat means melasma will most likely be a part of every summer. That said, will I do MOXI laser again? Absolutely.
A 10-minute procedure at the end of each summer versus prescription cream for half the year definitely fits into my lazy girl beauty routine.
I get to spend the rest of the year enjoying my skin and maintaining it, rather than fighting to correct pigmentation.