Melasma: Symptoms and Treatment

Melasma: Symptoms and Treatment

Have you noticed skin discoloration on your face or chest? Melasma, a common skin problem, often presents as tan, brown or greyish-blue marks on the parts of our bodies that get the most sun. While this skin issue appears on a lot of women during pregnancy, men and woman of all ages are susceptible.

 What is Melasma?  

Melasma is a skin discoloration condition that most commonly affects women between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. It can also affect men; however, it is extremely rare. Melasma normally appears on the cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead, chin, and upper lip in the form of dark irregularly-shaped blotches.

Pregnant women, those who take chemical contraceptives, or postmenopausal women who take progesterone replacement therapy commonly come down with this condition.  Melasma in pregnant women is also known as chloasma, or “the mask of pregnancy”.

 Cause and Symptoms of Melasma?  

At the bottom end of your outer layer of skin, you have cells called melanocytes. These are what produce melanin. A change in your progesterone and estrogen levels combined with sun exposure can stimulate the irregular production of melanin. This is the most common cause of melasma. In and of itself, this condition causes no other symptoms beyond the skin blotches. It is a cosmetic condition and has not been linked to cancer or any other dangerous skin diseases.

However, autoimmune thyroid disease and Addison’s disease have been associated with melasma. The development of Addison’s disease can cause melasma above the kidney area. Therefore, if discoloration occurs in other areas than your face, you may want to consult a doctor for additional information and testing.

Can It be Treated?  

Fortunately, there are several treatment options for this condition. There are many topical treatments that will reduce melasma such as hydroquinone, cysteine hydrochloride, or azelaic acid. Some patients also respond to microdermabrasion which removes the outer layer of skin reducing dark areas.

There are products on the market recommended by skin care professionals that can help with skin discoloration treatment. Different products offer multi-layered hyperpigmentation correction that can assist with existing spots, block excess melanin, or boost pigment resistance.

An effective chemical peel can be an excellent option to consider. Chemical peels are capable of reducing discoloration and providing your skin with an overall improved, more even tone.

Melasma can develop slowly and it takes a while to clear up.  Skin type plays a role in determining the best treatment.  Melasma caused by serious sun exposure can be the most difficult to treat.

Preventing Melasma 

While many cures exist, including chemical peels and skincare products, you can take preventive measures to lessen your odds of acquiring melasma.

Avoid excess sun exposure, and wear shade-giving hats if you must be outside for a long duration of time.  Sunblock and sunglasses are extremely important as well.  A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50 which contains physical blockers like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is recommended.

Editor’s Note: This blog has been updated in May 2024

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