Years ago I used to think if I was diligent about wearing (and reapplying) SPF, I was completely protected against the sun. But if that was the case, why was I walking around with a Tom Selleck — i.e. sun mustache — on my upper lip?
As I've since learned from frequent trips to the dermatologist, this type of hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure is called melasma. It primarily affects women, including 10 to 25 percent of women on birth control pills and 10 to 15 percent of pregnant woman. While it usually appears on the upper lip, some ladies see it on their foreheads or jawlines.
Here's the kicker: once the dark spots appear on your face, they don't go away on their own like a sunburn for instance. The only way to get rid of them — OVER TIME — is with regular glycolic acid peels or laser treatments at your dermatologist. Fun, right?
Ready for the second kicker? A chemical SPF alone does not protect against melasma! The only way to prevent it is with a physical blocker, such as a giant shade-producing hat or a sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. As in, the kind of sunscreen associated with lifeguards that does not disappear into the skin.
Like a lot of women, I like to think I knew a thing or two about skin care. I read magazines, visit beauty blogs, and have a medicine cabinet bursting with just about every product under the sun. And yet, melasma was not on my radar. And I'm not alone! Every year when Summer hits, so do the Tom Sellecks. I see mustaches on my friends, coworkers, and women on the street who I don't even know.
Most women, when I ask them about it, are perplexed about what is happening on their faces, which in turn makes me perplexed! Why is melasma still so hush-hush, so unknown among women, when it is taking so many of us down, Summer after Summer?
Long ago, I resolved to never let a Summer mustache sneak up on me again. Beating melasma at its own game requires vigilance, a little know-how and, believe it or not, not caring what other people think.
An extralong bill visor (along with always walking on the shady side of the street) keeps me protected on days when I'm in and out of taxis and buildings.
But a beach or pool day requires a whole other level of commitment. I love laying out as much as the next, but when I do it, I'm wearing a neon Zinka mustache. I'll match the color to my suit, sure, but I'm not shy about it. People stare, usually with a mix of confusion and borderline horror, and I get asked a lot of questions about my hot pink upper lip. But for me the choice is simple. I can either wear a neon mustache at the pool or a brown sun mustache 24/7. I'll go with the neon every time.
And you know what? I've come to love my neon 'stache! It's part of what makes me who I am. Plus the bright colors are fun, and isn't that what Summer style is all about? People can stare, but it doesn't bother me. And the more women I can bring into the melasma sisterhood by talking about it, the better. So if you're looking for a way to stay safe this Summer, I'm telling you, reach for the Zinka. Who cares what the peanut gallery says or thinks; your upper lip will thank you!