Melasma is a skin condition characterized by tanned patches of pigment that form on the cheeks, upper lip, nose, and sometimes the forehead area. While the facial area is the most common site by far, other sun-exposed areas such as the arms, neck and elsewhere can also be affected. Typically, melasma form gradually over time and become more noticeable and prominent with time. Melasma is not a medical concern, but its appearance can be a psychologically distressing skin condition for some.
When someone has melasma, the cells (melanocytes) which give skin its colour become overactive, producing spots that are darker than the surrounding skin.
While the exact cause of melasma formation is still unknown, several factors can contribute to melasma: sun exposure, heat, skin trauma, and or genetics. But hormones are the main trigger. Melasma mostly affects women for this reason, but it can occasionally affect men as well. Birth control pills, pregnancy, or various hormonal therapies can trigger a bout of melasma for many women, and estrogen levels or sensitivity to estrogen appear to be a cause of melasma.
Melasma can affect anyone, but some are more prone to it than others.
This skin condition is common among women, those who use hormonal birth control and especially among pregnant women, as hormonal factors often play a major role. For this reason, melasma is commonly referred to as the “mask of pregnancy”.
Melasma will sometimes disappear spontaneously, especially if it was caused by temporary hormonal changes from pregnancy or taking birth control pills. In many cases, once the pregnancy is over, or you stop taking birth control pills, the melasma subsides as well.
Unfortunately, some will struggle with their melasma more than others. Which makes it difficult to predict which cases of melasma will fade or how quickly it will take to treat.
Treatment of melasma is often very challenging. For many, treatment is slow to take effect, and in many cases, the melasma recurs even after successful treatment. Ongoing continuous sun protection is critical in treating melasma. Very often, a small amount of sun exposure can reverse the progress made with treatments. Sometimes even after successful treatment, sun exposure can bring the melasma right back, which can be extremely frustrating. Remember to wear a hat and wear sunscreen year-round.
Another treatment is to brighten/lighten the dark spots with topical creams and lotions that contain actives that will help block tyrosinase that inhibits melanin. Look for products with these ingredients: hydroquinone, azelaic acid, kojic acid, arbutin, Melaslow or vitamin C. Patients should expect their melasma to improve slowly over months of treatment, provided that they continue to be vigilant with sun protection both throughout the treatment period and after the melasma has been successfully treated.
Other treatment options you can add include chemical peels and laser treatments. Consult with a medical professional to find out which treatment may be best for you and your skin.
Treatment of melasma is often very challenging. For many, treatment is slow to take effect, and in many cases, the melasma recurs even after successful treatment. Ongoing continuous sun protection is critical in treating melasma. Very often, a small amount of sun exposure can reverse the progress made with treatments. Sometimes even after successful treatment, sun exposure can bring the melasma right back, which can be incredibly frustrating. Remember the following: