What Is Melasma?
Melasma is a common
skin problem. The condition causes dark, discolored patches on your skin.
It’s also called
chloasma, or the “mask of pregnancy,” when it occurs in pregnant women. The
condition is much more common in women than men, though men can get it too.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 90 percent of people who develop melasma are women.
Symptoms of Melasma
patches of discoloration. The patches are darker than your typical skin color.
It typically occurs on the face and is symmetrical, with matching marks on both
sides of your face. Other areas of your body that are often exposed to sun can
also develop melasma.
patches usually appear on the:
- bridge of the nose
It can also occur
on the neck and forearms. The skin discoloration doesn't do any physical harm,
but you may feel self-conscious about the way it looks.
If you notice these
symptoms of melasma, see your doctor. Your doctor might refer you to a
dermatologist, who is a doctor that specializes in treating skin disorders.
Causes and Risk Factors of Melasma
It isn’t totally clear
what causes melasma. Darker skinned individuals are more at risk than fair skinned
individuals. Estrogen and progesterone sensitivity are also associated with the
condition. This means birth control pills, pregnancy, and hormone therapy can
all trigger melasma. Stress and thyroid disease have also been postulated to be
causes of melasma.
Sun exposure can also
cause melasma because the ultraviolet rays affect the cells that control
How Is Melasma Diagnosed?
A visual exam of
the affected area is often enough to diagnose melasma. To rule out specific
causes, your doctor might also perform some tests.
technique is a Wood’s lamp examination . This is a special kind of light
that’s held up to your skin and allows the doctor to check for infections and
determine how many layers of skin the melasma affects. To check for any serious
skin conditions, your doctor might also perform a biopsy. This involves
removing a small piece of the affected skin for testing.
Is Melasma Treatable?
For some women,
melasma disappears on its own. This typically occurs when it’s caused by
pregnancy or birth control pills.
There are creams
your doctor can prescribe that can lighten the skin. Your doctor might also
prescribe topical steroids to help lighten the affected areas. If these don't
work, chemical peels, dermabrasion, and microdermabrasion are possible options.
These treatments strip away the top layers of skin and may help lighten dark
don't guarantee that the melasma won't come back, and some cases of melasma
cannot be completely lightened. You might have to return for follow-up visits
and follow certain skin treatment guidelines to reduce the risk of the melasma
returning. These include minimizing your sun exposure and wearing sunscreen.
Coping and Living with Melasma
While not all cases
of melasma will clear up with treatment, there are things you can do to make
sure the condition doesn’t get worse and to minimize appearance of the
discoloration. These include:
- using makeup to cover areas of
- taking prescribed medication
- wearing sunscreen every day with SPF
- wearing a wide-brimmed hat that
shields or provides shade for your face
clothing is especially important if you'll be in the sun for an extended period
self-conscious about your melasma, talk with your doctor about local support
groups or counselors. Meeting other people with the condition or talking with
someone can make you feel better.