Melasma is a skin discoloration that is an example of hyperpigmentation. Melasma presents as light brown, dark brown, and/or blue-gray spots on the skin. It may appear either as flat patches or as freckle-like areas. Melasma develops as a result of the overproduction of melanin, the cells that give skin its color.

The face, especially the cheekbones, upper lip, forehead, and forearms, are frequently affected. It may affect the limbs, neck, and back on occasion. Any area of the body exposed to sunlight can develop melasma.

It is a pervasive skin disorder, especially among pregnant women, so it is referred to as the “mask of pregnancy.” Melasma generally darkens and lightens over time, frequently worsening during the summer and improving throughout the winter.

Is Melasma Dangerous?

Melasma is not cancerous or a symptom of cancer. It’s completely harmless from a health perspective. Some skin cancers may mimic melasma, so it’s recommended to have a dermatologist examine any skin discoloration for an accurate diagnosis.

From a mental health perspective, it’s a chronic and recurrent disease that can negatively affect the quality of life. It’s only natural for some people to feel self-conscious who have this skin disorder.

What causes Melasma?

Melasma development may be attributed to multiple factors such as sunlight, hormones, genetic factors, pregnancy, thyroid dysfunction, cosmetics, and medications. If any of these factors are present, they can stimulate the melanocyte cells causing them to produce more melanin, resulting in brown patches on the skin.

How is Melasma treated?

Melasma may disappear when a woman gives birth or stops using birth control medications. However, some people experience melasma for years, if not their whole lives. Melasma therapies are available if the melasma does not resolve or if a woman wants to continue using birth control pills. These include the following:

  • Hydroquinone: This drug is frequently used as first-line therapy for melasma. It is applied to the skin and helps to level out the tone of the skin. Without a prescription, hydroquinone is no longer available. Your dermatologist can prescribe hydroquinone if it is a suitable fit for you.
  • Corticosteroids and tretinoin: Your dermatologist may prescribe a second medication to speed up the process of skin whitening. This medication may be tretinoin or a corticosteroid. Occasionally, a cream will include three medications (hydroquinone, tretinoin, and a corticosteroid). 
  • Additional topical medications: Azelaic acid or kojic acid may be prescribed by your dermatologist to aid in the reduction of melasma.
  • Procedures: A treatment may be performed if a medication applied to the skin is ineffective at eradicating melasma. A chemical peel, laser therapy, or a light-based technique are all options for treating melasma.

How is Melasma Diagnosed?

Most patients can be diagnosed simply by looking at their skin. Your Buckeye dermatologist can examine your skin using a device called a Wood’s light or Wood’s lamp to determine the depth to which the melasma has penetrated the skin. The device emits ultraviolet (UV) light in the 365-nanometer range to assist in diagnosing various pigment disorders.