What is the patchy discoloration on the face, that oftentimes appears in women? A skin condition known as melasma may be to blame.
What Is Melasma?
Melasma is a common skin condition that affects the face and causes patchy, brown, tan or blue-gray spots on the face. It is one of several skin conditions that result in patches of discolored skin.
Most people with melasma get dark patches on their cheeks, chin, nose bridge, forehead, and above the upper lip. This discoloration of the skin is not painful and doesn't have any health risks, but it can cause emotional distress.
Who Gets Melasma?
"Melasma is very common in women from ages 20 to 50 years old, especially after pregnancy," said May J. Chow, MD, a dermatologist with Specialty Physicians of Illinois who chooses to practice at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields. Dr. Chow stated that when you are pregnant, your hormone levels are increasing through the roof, and this is a reason it is more likely for a woman to get melasma compared to a man.
People with darker skin, such as those of Latin/Hispanic, North African, African-American or Indian descent, are more likely to get melasma. People who have a blood relative who had melasma also are much more likely to get melasma.
What Causes Melasma?
The exact cause of melasma is not completely clear, but there are factors that have been proven to trigger melasma, especially in people of color.
- Sun exposure: Exposure to the sun's rays can make melasma worse and this includes being in the heat and visible light. It doesn't have to be a very hot day out, but if the sun is beaming on your skin, the melasma can immediately get worse.
- A change in hormones: Changes that increase your hormonal levels like perimenopause and pregnancy can cause women to get melasma.
- Waxing: Waxing can irritate or inflame the skin, which can worsen melasma.
Can I Prevent Melasma?
Melasma cannot be prevented.
"Unless your hormones never change and you never get pregnant, you cannot not take any steps to avoid melasma," Dr. Chow said.
If you do get diagnosed with melasma, Dr. Chow stated how important it is to seek treatment to prevent it from getting worse.
Sun Protection And Melasma
Proper sun protection can help prevent the development or recurrence of melasma.
"You have to use sunscreen and sun protection. Do not go out into the direct sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and make sure you wear a 12-inch round hat," Dr. Chow said.
There are two main types of sunscreens:
- Sunscreens that use chemicals, such as oxybenzone
- Sunscreens that use physical blockers, such as zinc and titanium dioxide.
Does Melasma Go Away On Its Own?
Melasma can sometimes fade away on its own, however, some people can have melasma for years, or forever.
If pregnancy was the trigger, the skin discoloration may begin to fade after the woman has her baby. But this is not always the case.
How Do You Treat Melasma?
Your dermatologist will diagnose and treat melasma by visually examining the skin and determining what is causing the melasma.
"Melasma should not and cannot be self-treated. You must see a dermatologist," Dr. Chow said.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, these are some of the common treatments:
Topical Treatments For Melasma
- Hydroquinone: This medicine is a common first treatment for melasma and works by lightening the skin. Hydroquinone comes as a cream, lotion, gel, or liquid and is applied to the skin.
- Tretinoin and corticosteroids: Both of these help with lightening the color of the patches on the skin. They come in gels, creams and lotions.
- Other topical (applied to the skin) medicines: Other topical treatments that may be prescribed to help lighten melasma include azelaic acid or kojic acid.
Procedures To Treat Melasma
If topical treatments do not get rid of melasma, your dermatologist may recommend a procedure to treat melasma. Procedures for melasma include a chemical peel, microdermabrasion, dermabrasion, laser treatment, or a light-based procedure.
Melasma And Skin Cancer
It is important to see a dermatologist, not a spa, when you think you have melasma because they will be able to detect skin cancer or determine whether the spots are themselves melasma.
"Dark sports and brown sports are dangerous, and you need to be extremely careful because it can be an early form of skin cancer, like melanoma," Dr. Chow said.
By Ariel Anderson
Social Media Specialist