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.