And yes, your diet and lifestyle is completely connected to melasma and hyperpigmentation.
For some of you, your diet might actually be what’s triggering the dark patches, or preventing it from fading.
Often we get so caught up with what to apply to the surface of the skin to get rid of melasma, we overlook the fact that the issue is deep inside your skin.
Treating the surface of your skin can improve the appearance of the pigmentation, but if you want to eliminate the melasma completely and make sure it doesn’t come back, you must target the cause.
What Causes Melasma & Hyperpigmentation
In order to understand the connection between your diet and melasma, it’s important to understand what’s really causing the hyperpigmentation.
I personally believe melasma is inflammation deep inside your skin.
According to research, melasma is triggered by internal and external conditions, such as:
- hormone imbalances
- hormone changes from pregnancy and/or breastfeeding
- birth control pills, injections, patches
- HRT (hormone replacement therapy including natural HRT like progesterone creams and supplements, etc)
- high blood sugar
- thyroid issues
- sun exposure
- sun damage
- heat (internal and external)
- trauma to the skin
Why you’re prone to melasma from these conditions and other people aren’t has to do with underlying inflammation in the skin. Studies has shown that melasma skin has increased vascularity and defective barrier function making your skin less resistant and reactive.
In order to really get rid of stubborn melasma, you’ve got to target the underlying issue, and that is INFLAMMATION.
How can your diet help fade melasma?
Since inflammatory signals trigger melasma, there’s adjustments you can make with your diet to eliminate inflammation in your body. Inflammation isn’t difficult to get rid of, you just need to know how (and commit to doing it consistently).
Not only will making diet improvements help get rid of the melasma, but overall, your skin will be much healthier, heal a lot quicker, have less redness and texture, and improve the signs of aging.
Eat real food
As I said, melasma is an inflammatory issue deep inside your skin. What causes inflammation is anything that irritates or stresses your body, or throws it off balance.
Junk food, processed food, factory-made food, artificial sweeteners, flavour enhancers, food colouring, and chemical additives are not supposed to be in our natural diet.
We are made to eat real, natural, nutritious, fresh food.
But, somewhere along the way we started eating processed foods, and over time that started breaking down and overburdening your body, causing irritation and inflammation.
So if you want to heal your body to get rid of that inflammation, start eating foods that contain the nutrients your body needs, so it can start working properly again.
This is so simple (and such an obvious solution), but so many people are hooked and addicted to processed foods and ingredients. It’s easy to be in denial of what it’s doing to your health, and how it could be affecting your skin.
Eating real food means eating foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, meats, fish, eggs, herbs, spices, etc. Your food needs to be fresh, you need to be preparing it yourself, using quality ingredients.
Avoiding inflammatory foods means avoiding junk food, fast food, pre-made food, processed foods, beverages, and ingredients. Anything that comes out of a bag, can, container, jar, box, or bottle is probably processed. If the food you are eating was made in a factory, has all sorts of chemicals added to it to enhance the flavour or preserve it, you shouldn’t be eating it.
Avoid inflammatory drinks
It’s not only processed foods that are inflammatory and offering your body very little nutrition, but a lot of drinks as well.
If you want to really heal your body and your skin, I recommend not drinking soda, packaged fruit juices, energy drinks, sugary teas, and also avoiding alcohol and coffee.
None of these beverages are doing you any favours.
If you want to drink for your health, drink water. Or, have a plain herbal tea, infused water, or a freshly pressed vegetable juice.
Stop eating foods you are allergic to, or sensitive to
I know this might sound obvious, but I think some of you might need a reminder.
I used to have food sensitivities, mainly to foods I loved, and it was VERY hard to give them up. But let me tell you, every time you eat a food you are allergic to, or that causes digestive distress, it’s automatically causing inflammation in your body and can be contributing to the hyperpigmentation as well.
To start healing your skin, eliminate those foods you know, or suspect is causing you issues.
Common allergenic foods:
- Milk and dairy products
- Soybeans and soy products
- Wheat gluten
- Tree nuts
Decrease carbs in your diet
For many of you, the melasma and inflammation is being triggered by your hormones.
Too many carbs in your diet can be throwing your blood sugar off and causing hormone fluctuations and imbalances.
If you’ve developed melasma while being pregnant, breastfeeding, taking birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, or the melasma appears worse at different times of your menstrual cycle – your hormones are connected to the pigmentation.
Controlling the carbohydrates in your diet can help.
I know this based on my own personal experience, and from coaching clients I have worked with.
For majority of people, decreasing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet can help to reduce the melasma. For some of you, reducing the carbohydrates can possibly get rid of the melasma completely.
Decreasing carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, helps balance your hormones and keeps your blood sugar balanced, which in turn will keep that melasma-causing inflammation down.
For some of you, just taking out sugar and processed food will be enough to help fade the melasma.
Just remember, carbohydrates aren’t just sugar, they are also starches as well.
Here’s some examples of processed foods high in carbs:
- sugar and syrups (all forms)
- baked goods (breads, cakes, crackers, bagels, muffins, cookies, etc)
- pastas and noodles
- chips and crisps
- rice cakes and puffed grains
- soda or pop
- fruit drinks
- sweet drinks (energy drinks, sweetened teas, sweet coffee drinks, etc)
Looking at this list above, if you’re eating a lot of these foods, or there’s one or two of them you’re eating daily – take a break from those foods. Eliminate as many processed and refined carbs as possible. It can take a few weeks to start seeing improvements in your skin, but it’s worth it.
And for those of you already eating super healthy and still dealing with the melasma, I recommend looking into the healthy carbs you are eating, and start decreasing them.
Examples of health foods high in carbohydrates:
- fruit (mango, papaya, banana, grapes, pineapple, etc)
- grains (corn, rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, couscous, wheat, etc.)
- flour (wheat flour, rice flour, potato flour, cassava flour, corn flour, buckwheat flour, etc)
- beans/legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans, pinto beans, etc)
- root vegetables (potatoes, beets, carrots, pumpkin, squash, yams, etc)
- sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, palm sugar)
Of course all these foods are healthy, but if you have melasma and you’ve already cut out all processed carbs and aren’t getting results, then I recommend decreasing the amounts of healthy carbs to see how your skin responds.
Looking at the list above, are there any foods you eat a lot of every day, maybe too much of?
Let’s say you eat grains at every meal, whether it’s bread or pasta, or rice with your meals – I recommend cutting your portions down or instead of having them at every meal, have them once a day or only a few times a week.
You could even keep a food journal for 3-5 days, and at the end, circle all the foods that are high is carbohydrates. The ones that you eat most frequently (like every day or a few times a day), take a break from for a month to see how your skin responds.
I’ve worked with many people who’ve made a conscious effort to replace a substantial portion of the starchy or sugary carbs in their diet with foods that are full of healthy fats and proteins, and have amazing results fading melasma. And it doesn’t mean you have to cut out all carbs, just decrease the amounts.
And for best results, do this for at least a month, be consistent.
Getting rid of melasma won’t happen overnight, and depending on the severity of the melasma, it probably won’t go away in a month either. But, if you decrease the carbs and eliminate processed foods from your diet for at least 30 days, you should see some improvement and know that what you are doing is helping, and to continue. After one month, if you don’t see any improvement what so ever, I recommend you look through your diet again to see if there is anything else you can take out.
If you are pregnant or exclusively breastfeeding and have melasma, I don’t recommend decreasing the carbohydrates in your diet. You can take the processed food out of your diet and eat healthy whole foods which will be better for you and your baby. Once you give birth and your baby is no longer exclusively breastfeeding (after 6 months of age), you can then experiment with decreasing the carbs in your diet to see if this can help fade the melasma (if you continue breastfeeding but not exclusively, you’ll still need a good amount of carbohydrates in your diet to maintain your milk supply, so make sure not to take too much out). Often you’ll have to wait until after you’ve completely stopped breastfeeding and your postpartum hormones have normalized to see improvements in the melasma.
What to add in to your diet for melasma
Along with taking out all processed and junk foods from your diet, and decreasing carbohydrates; it’s also important to make sure you are getting good quantities of antioxidants in your daily diet.
Antioxidants helps reduce inflammation, strengthens cellular repair, and can protect you skin cells from free radical damage.
In this day and age we are constantly exposed to pollution and strong UV rays. We need as much internal and external protection we can get. Antioxidants are key, and getting them from your natural diet can protect your body from the inside out.
As you probably know, sun damage and UV exposure makes melasma so much worse. Along with protecting your skin from the sun by wearing protective clothing, sunscreen, and staying indoors during strong sun hours; eating foods containing an abundance of antioxidants can actually boost your body’s ability to protect itself from the sun.
Antioxidants you want in your food:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
Examples of foods high in antioxidants:
- Berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, pomegranate, dragon fruit, kiwis, etc)
- Beans (kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, cacao beans, etc)
- Vegetables (tomatoes, onion, artichokes, broccoli, red cabbage, beets, etc)
- Green Leafy Vegetables & Herbs (kale, spinach, chard, artichokes, cilantro, thyme, basil, etc)
- Spices (turmeric, cinnamon, clove, cumin, ginger, etc)
- Nuts (pecans, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc)
The easiest way to tell if a food is high in antioxidants is by the colour of the food. The deeper the colour (like wild blueberries, spinach, or turmeric), the more antioxidants it will have. So, if at every meal you are eating an abundance of foods that are colourful, then you know you are eating a wide array of antioxidant-rich foods.
Since you want to get rid of melasma by lowering the carbs in your diet and boosting consumption of antioxidants, the easiest way around this is eating antioxidant-rich foods that are also low glycemic. That means eating more green vegetables, colourful vegetables, spices, herbs, berries, and some nuts and beans. Vegetables like carrots and beets that are high in natural sugars are fine to eat in small quantities, just not too much all the time. If you like having a freshly pressed vegetable juice, don’t drink a carrot, beet, apple juice; instead have a kale, cucumber, celery juice (big difference!).
And if you are wondering if you can just take a supplement instead of getting the antioxidants from your food, I don’t recommend it.
Getting the bulk of your nutrition from your food is the way to go. We really don’t know how much of the nutrients in supplements are really being absorbed. Plus, we don’t know what kind of stress supplements put on your kidneys and liver to break them down. Fresh, real food is always the safest, and best option.
References for this article
Kang, H. Y., & Ortonne, J. P. (2010). What should be considered in treatment of melasma. Annals of dermatology, 22(4), 373–378. doi:10.5021/ad.2010.22.4.373
Lee, D., Lee, J., Ha, J., Park, K.‐C., Ortonne, J.‐P. and Kang, H. (2012), Defective barrier function in melasma skin. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 26: 1533-1537. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3083.2011.04337.x
Kim, E., Kim, Y.C., Lee, E.-S., Kang, H.Y., (2007), The vascular characteristics of melasma. Vol. 46, Issue 2, p111-116. doi:10.1016/j.jdermsci.2007.01.009
Costin, G. E., & Hearing, V. J. (2007). Human skin pigmentation: melanocytes modulate skin color in response to stress. FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 21(4), 976–994. doi:10.1096/fj.06-6649rev
Costin, G. and Hearing, V.J. (2007), Human skin pigmentation: melanocytes modulate skin color in response to stress. FASEB J, 21: 976-994. doi:10.1096/fj.06-6649rev
Foods that fight inflammation, Harvard Health Publishing (2014).
More blog posts on melasma and hyperpigmentation
Here’s a bunch more blog posts and videos on melasma and hyperpigmentation, and what else you can do with your skincare routine, skincare products, and lifestyle to fade hyperpigmentation.
I truly believe if you work on all factors including your diet, lifestyle, and skincare routine, you’ll get the best and most lasting results.