Reddit: my master, my muse, my favorite mistake.

There’s something about the low-tech, anonymous message board site that just reels me in. I now visit “the front page of the Internet,” (as Reddit likes to call itself), at least once a day. It’s a habit I collected almost immediately after Donald Trump was sworn into office. For some reason, I felt I could trust the upvotes of Redditors to parse out reliable news stories for me more than I could individual newstream sources. The anonymous anarchy of Reddit made it more trustworthy, in a sense. More people, more opinions, more truth?

But the derpy dog gifs and the breaking news stories aren’t the real thing that keeps me going back to my old Internet black hole. It’s r/skincareaddiction, the subred that’s dedicated to all things skincare.

Years ago, as a beauty editor, I’d troll the ‘Skincare Addiction’ page for reviews of new products, top secret ways to banish a pimple overnight, and crowdsourced information on everything from how to get rid of undereye circles to which face wash was best to use for cystic acne. It was a content goldmine. I’d come out of almost every deep dive with half a dozen pitch ideas for the stories I wanted to write — and usually, a product or technique that I’d want to test out myself.

And while the vociferous members of SA give each other loads of positive encouragement and helpful feedback in the face of clear skin adversity (seriously, it’s a rare corner of the Internet where there’s zero tolerance for cyberbullying), reading through other people’s postings about their wrinkles, blackheads, and scars actually made me acutely aware of my own dermatological flaws.

Sure, I get my share of hormonal acne breakouts, and I’m in my late 20’s, so I’m sporting a few more smile lines around the eyes. But it was the hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone that never went away after a particularly sundrenched summer a few years ago that really got to me.

Hyperpigmentation is any sort of discoloration that happens on the skin. It can come from sun damage, scarring, freckles, or even skin reactions like rashes. As a result, the pigment-making cells in skin (called melanocytes) are overproduced, creating extra pigment and leaving you with a not-so-cute dark spot — or in my case, more than a few dark spots.

I wanted to look like an Instagram filter IRL — smooth, bright, clear, and slightly younger! What was up with the small patches of darker skin that had cropped up on my cheeks after a week of surfing in Central America?

These weren’t freckles, and no matter how much sunscreen I applied they didn’t seem to fade on their own. I was at a loss. WTF was up with my skin?

Dr. Ronald Moy, dermatologist and founder of the skincare company DNA Renewal, schooled me on the possible causes of my skincare woes. “The difference between skin pigmentation in melasma, sunspots, and freckles is that melasma is caused by the combination of sunlight and hereditary, pre-menopausal female hormones. Sunspots are caused by sun exposure and DNA damage, usually in adults. Freckles are hereditary and occur in young people who have fair skin and have had some sun exposure.”  

But the root cause of my hyperpigmentation? Melasma. “Melasma is often first seen in women who start birth control pills or are pregnant because the estrogen surge, combined with sunlight, causes this diffuse pigmentation seen mostly on the cheeks and lips,” Dr. Moy told me. It’s a super common problem for women (nearly 5 million of us are sporting melasma spots), but is incredibly difficult to treat. “The treatments for melasma include bleaching creams and some lasers, although there are no treatments that are consistently effective.” Rude.

Unfortunately, it can take just a few lazy days out in the sun for skincare issues like freckles, melasma, and sunspots to crop up. Here’s how to stop sun damage in its tracks this summer — and how to treat your complexion if you slip up and forget the SPF.

Your skin type matters —

Depending on the tone of your complexion you may be more at risk for certain types of damage. “Patients with fair skin who sunburn are most likely to get freckles,” explains Dr. Moy. “Patients who are brunette or who have black hair and darker skin are more likely to get melasma that does not respond to various treatments. Lentigos — or sunspots — most often occur in more mature patients with fair or dark skin and who have had significant sun exposure during youth.”

Sunscreen helps, but not as much as you’d think —

It’s been hammered into our brains for years that we need to wear SPF 50 every day, even when it’s overcast outside and especially if we’re going to be out in the direct sun. But Dr. Moy points out that while sunscreen is okay for preventing topical skin damage, he notes that sunscreens “have not been that effective in preventing skin cancers since their introduction.”

So keep wearing sunscreen, but don’t rely on it to be your only protection from UVAs and UVBs.

“The best ways to prevent these types of sun damage is to replenish and repair the damaged DNA in the skin. DNA repair activity in the skin can be increased using DNA repair enzyme creams such as DNA Night Renewal, DNA Intensive Renewal, and the DNA Mask.”  

Topical treatments can reverse damage —

“Sunspots are best treated with lasers. Freckles are usually not treated but can be prevented. And if you do have melasma, it is best treated with prescription creams that contain bleaching ingredients, gentle exfoliating acid, and anti-inflammatory cortisone ingredients,” Dr. Moy explains. “Newer medicines are being studied outside the US which have the potential for being effective — but are not yet approved by the FDA.”

If you’re looking for something with a little more oomph, consider laser treatments: “The newest type of laser is the Pico laser which improves melasma and sunspots due to reduced inflammation. These Pico laser treatments can be effective, but may require 5-8 treatments in order to treat the melasma with gentle gradual pigmentation reduction.”

Your nutrition makes a difference —

Fortunately, some ingestible supplements can boost the skin’s ability to regenerate and protect itself from further damage. “Women should be better informed about how best to prevent past sun damage with Vitamin B3 supplements,” says Dr. Moy. “Nicotinamide (Vitamin B3) has been shown to decrease skin cancer and pre-cancer keratosis by increasing skin DNA repair. Other natural supplements such as melatonin, lemon balm extract, and valerian root are beneficial to help repair the DNA damage in the skin and helps repair skin health during the sleep cycle.”

Talking with Dr. Moy eased my melasma fears. I started taking Vitamin B3 per his recommendation, and headed back to my favorite subreddit for recs on the best topical treatments for hyperpigmentation (Paula’s Choice Resist Triple Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion, what’s up!).

This summer, it’s all SPF 70, hats, and good old-fashioned sleep. Next summer… maybe a laser.

Michelle Pellizzon is a creative consultant based in Los Angeles. A former professional dancer-turned-startup employee, she’s led a strange but wonderful creative life. Follow along for her latest projects and mishaps at @betterbymichelle, and connect with wellness practitioners at her company, @holisticism.

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