Melasma is a common skin condition that causes brown and grey-brown patches to form on the patient’s face. Also known as “the mask of pregnancy,” the condition is much more common in women than men. The exact causes of melasma are not fully understood, but sun exposure, hormonal fluctuations, and the use of harsh cosmetics play a role.
What is melasma?
Melasma is a common skin problem that affects mostly women. The grey-brown patches that are a result of melasma usually develop on the face: on the cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead, chin, and above the upper lip. It can appear in other areas where there is a lot of sun exposure, but the main location is the face.
These patches of discoloration are not painful.
What causes melasma?
Although a direct cause of melasma is unclear, there are some common triggers:
- Sun exposure — Ultraviolet (UV) light from sun exposure stimulates the melanocytes. This is the skin’s protection mechanism against sun damage, darkening the skin. People who get melasma usually have reoccurrences during the summer months.
- Hormonal activity — There is a relationship between hormonal changes and melasma. Pregnant women often get melasma, and their wildly fluctuating hormone levels are thought to be the trigger. In fact, one-half of all melasma cases develop initially during pregnancy. Also, women on birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy patients are prone to the condition.
- Skincare products — If a skincare product or cosmetic irritates your skin, melasma can return or worsen.
Who’s likely to develop melasma?
Women are far more likely to develop melasma; just 10 percent of cases occur in males. People with darker skin tones are more likely to develop melasma because they already have more active melanocytes in their skin. Also, people who have a blood relative who had melasma are much more likely to get melasma themselves.
What is the difference between melasma and hyperpigmentation?
Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation simply refers to any type of darkening of the skin. This can be caused by anything, from sun exposure to freckles to acne scarring.
Melasma is chiefly the result of estrogen; that’s why 90 percent of cases occur in women. The hormone fluctuations that come with pregnancy, from certain birth control pills and hormone therapy can trigger it. Sun exposure and heat exacerbate melasma.
Another key difference between hyperpigmentation and melasma is the appearance. Hyperpigmentation can show up as random spots or patches anywhere on the face and neck. Melasma appears in blotchy, but symmetrical patterns on the cheeks, the bridge of the nose, forehead, chin, and upper lip.
Hyperpigmentation is a result of external factors, whereas melasma is affected by internal factors.
How is melasma treated?
Melasma can fade, as mentioned above when issues such as hormone fluctuations level off. But if a woman needs to stay on the pill, or if her melasma simply keeps returning, the experienced dermatologists at Georgia Dermatology may use any of these treatment approaches.
- Hydroquinone — This medicine lightens the skin; it is often the first treatment option. Our doctors can prescribe more effective hydroquinone than is available over the counter.
- Tretinoin and corticosteroids — These options can enhance skin lightening. There may even be an option of prescribing a single medicine with hydroquinone, tretinoin, and a corticosteroid. This is usually called a triple cream.
- Laser resurfacing — Laser resurfacing can effectively remove areas of persistent melasma.
- Intense pulsed light — IPL can also be used similar to laser energy to get the skin to slough off surface cells and create new cells to replace them.
- Chemical peels — Chemical peels remove the top layer of the epidermis and can be effective for lightening areas with melasma.
How long will it take to see results from my melasma treatment?
We have good success in helping patients with persistent melasma. Melasma treatment may take a few months, however, so patients shouldn’t expect immediate results. Also, once your melasma clears, we will recommend maintenance therapy to keep it from returning.
Are there side effects from these melasma treatments?
Melasma treatments are safe, but sometimes they can actually darken the areas you’re trying to lighten. This can vary with different patients. They can also cause skin irritation.
What should I do to try and prevent melasma from returning?
There are tips you can follow to help prevent melasma from developing or reoccurring, especially if you have darker skin tones:
- Wear sunscreen — Sun exposure triggers melasma, so wearing sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 is recommended at all times. Your sunscreen needs to protect against both UV-A and UV-B rays.
- Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses — Some studies show that even with sunscreen on, some people still develop melasma. It’s thought that longer UV wavelengths may be to blame. So, if you’re prone to developing melasma, protective clothing and sunglasses are a must.
- Opt for gentle cosmetics and skincare products — If you’re using products that tend to sting or burn when applied, they can worsen melasma.
- Avoid waxing — Waxing areas such as above the upper lip can cause skin inflammation that worsens melasma.
Schedule Your Consultation
If you are interested in learning more about how our melasma treatment options can help your skin, contact Georgia Dermatology Partners at (770) 972-4845 today to schedule an appointment at any of our 4 convenient locations.