If you have a brown, tan, or blue-gray facial skin discoloration, you probably have melasma.
Melasma is a very common skin discoloration that is most prevalent in women. Melasma appears mostly in women 20 – 50 years of age, usually seen on the cheeks, forehead, and upper lip. It can also appear on other parts of the body which get a lot of sun exposure such as the forearms and neck. It is so common during pregnancy that it is often called the mask of pregnancy.
The exact cause of melasma remains unknown. Experts believe that the dark patches could be triggered by several factors, including pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, family history of melasma, and race. In addition, medications that make the skin more prone to pigmentation after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can also be a contributor. Uncontrolled sunlight exposure is believed to be the leading cause of melasma.
One of the most common ways to help prevent melasma is sun protection. Wear sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection to block UVA and UVB rays. The SPF (Sunscreen Protection Factor) should be 30 or greater and should contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide to physically block the sun’s rays. Re-applying sunscreen every 2 hours and wearing a wide-brimmed hat on days that you are out for long periods of time will help to protect your skin.
Melasma can be stubborn to treat. Treatments can include therapy with hydroquinones and tretinoins to lighten the skin, chemical peels, and in severe cases, laser treatments. Melasma can also fade on its own. This often happens when the cause of the melasma is pregnancy and the baby is delivered, or when birth control pills are stopped.
Under the care of a dermatologist, people with melasma can have a good outcome. It may take months of treatments to see improvement so it is important to follow the advice of your dermatologist. After your melasma clears, your doctor may place you on a maintenance therapy to prevent the melasma from returning. You can help prevent melasma by wearing sunscreen and reapplying the sunscreen every two hours, and wearing a wide brimmed hat every day.