If you notice a sudden unevenness in skin tone with darker or darkened patches of skin, you may have a common skin condition known as melasma.
If melasma has you feeling less confident about your appearance, scheduling an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist can help you correctly diagnose and treat this commonly-occurring skin disorder.
What is Melasma?
Affecting the face and neck, melasma is a skin condition that results in areas of skin becoming darker or hyperpigmented.
While melasma can occur in people of all skin tones, research shows that it predominantly affects people of color. Melasma also typically affects women more than men and commonly appears during pregnancy or while on oral contraceptives.
What are the Causes of Melasma?
Melasma happens when melanocytes—the skin cells responsible for producing melanin, the brown pigment that gives your skin its color—are made to produce excess melanin than usual.
Melasma can happen due to several different reasons, including:
- Exposure to the sun and UV radiation
- Oral contraceptives
- Hormone therapy
- Certain medications like anti-seizure medicines
- Family history of the condition
What are the Symptoms of Melasma?
Melasma is a commonly occurring skin condition that results in brown or grayish-brown patches of skin on your forehead, cheeks, upper lip, chin, and jaw.
It frequently occurs in women more than men as melanin production is stimulated by the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Melasma, if it happens during pregnancy, is sometimes referred to as a “pregnancy mask” or “chloasma.”
How is Melasma Diagnosed?
It’s not uncommon for melasma to go away on its own—especially if you’re pregnant and experiencing symptoms. However, for others, melasma can be a lifelong condition, which some people may want to treat for cosmetic reasons.
A board-certified dermatologist can accurately diagnose melasma by conducting a thorough examination, including evaluating your overall health and family history of the disorder.
To rule out several other skin conditions with similar symptoms, your dermatologist may also use a Wood’s lamp (which has UV light) to visualize the pigment on your skin or perform a skin biopsy.
Tips to Make Melasma Less Noticeable
- Reduce Sun Exposure
When it comes to melasma, prevention is the way to go, especially if exposure to the sun is the reason why you have it. Limiting your time in the sun, along with regular sunscreen usage—making sure to use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—and wearing a hat are all ways to stop your skin from going into overdrive and producing excess melanin.
- Prescription Creams
Your dermatologist may prescribe a topical hydroquinone cream, which is effective in preventing the production of melanin.
- Chemical Peels and Laser Treatments
People with severe melasma that’s chronic may be prescribed chemical peels or laser treatment to diminish signs of hyperpigmentation. It’s not uncommon for multiple sessions to be carried out over the course of several months because a noticeable outcome can be achieved.
- Switch to fragrance-free cosmetics and gentle soaps
Gentle skin care products are less likely to darken your melasma spots than products with fragrances and ingredients that are harsh and irritant.
- Vitamin C
Research indicates that over-the-counter vitamin C can brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation without being too harsh on your skin.
Treatment for Melasma is Safe When Performed by a Board-Certified Dermatologist
Depending on your symptoms, a dermatologist can prescribe one or more of the following methods of treatment for your melasma:
- Use a sunscreen that contains iron oxide, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide
- Topical treatments such as hydroquinone cream, which prevent the production of melanin
- Chemical peels
- Laser treatment, especially if your melasma is severe
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