Some people may not recognize the word melasma, but they’ve likely seen it on someone. Melasma, also known as chloasma, is a pretty common skin disorder that causes brown or gray patches on skin.
Affected by Melasma
About 90 percent of those affected by melasma are women. Because the condition is so common during pregnancy, it’s often called a pregnancy mask. The darker patches most often show up on the cheeks, chin, forehead, upper lip, and nasal bridge. Any other area of the body that gets a lot of sun, such as the neck or arms, could be impacted as well. An exact cause of melasma is undetermined, but it’s believed that melanocytes, which are the body’s color-making cells, produce too much color. All people, regardless of race, have the same number of melanocytes, but those with darker skin have more active melanocytes, which puts them at greater risk of developing melasma. The condition also tends to run in families. Common melasma triggers include hormonal changes, sun exposure that stimulates melanocytes and some skin care products that may irritate skin and make the condition worse.
There is no current cure for melasma, but it’s also not dangerous. Still, it’s best to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment plan that is specific to the individual patient. Typically, treatment begins with topical options, such as sunscreen, moisturizers, and skin lighteners. Lightening products include vitamin C, hydroquinone and tretinoin or corticosteroids. If topicals don’t solve the problem, the doctor may recommend a superficial chemical peel, which involves applying alpha-hydroxy acid or another mild chemical solution to the affected area. The solution penetrates the outer skin layer to exfoliate it, and the skin eventually peels off. Other procedures the doctor may recommend include microdermabrasion and laser therapy, which uses light energy on damaged skin to repair and regenerate it.
Those dark spots are not only unsightly, they’re stubborn. Sometimes it fades away on its own, and sometimes it lasts for decades or a lifetime. It may take months of treatment before improvement occurs, and in cases where melasma completely clears up, it could come back, so ongoing maintenance treatment may be necessary. Always wearing sunscreen when outside and wearing a wide-brimmed hat can help prevent re-occurrence.