Melasma : Causes, Pictures, Symptoms And Treatment

Melasma can affect anyone at any stage of their lives, although it is most common in adult women, particularly during pregnancy. Also known as chloasma faciei or ‘the mask of pregnancy’, the condition is characterised by patches of skin discolouration.

If you’ve noticed unusual patches of skin pigmentation, the best idea is to book an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out.

The symptoms of melasma

Melasma does not cause any painful or uncomfortable symptoms it is entirely cosmetic and affects only the appearance of the skin. It should also be noted that melasma is not associated with skin cancer, although an irregularities in the skin should always be thoroughly checked out by a health professional.

Dark, irregular and distinguished patches on the skin indicate melasma. These patches usually appear gradually over time and are normally found in the centre of the face around the cheek, nose, lips or forehead.

As a by-product, melasma can also have negative psychological effects, such as feeling frustrated, embarrassed or depressed about the appearance of the skin condition and this could lead to a fear of interacting with other people or the desire to avoid people.

What causes melasma?

Melasma occurs more frequently in women who are pregnant, those having hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or those who are on an oral or patch contraceptive, as it is closely linked with the hormones in your body.

The condition is also more likely to occur in women with a light brown skin tone, between the ages of 20 and 50, and it has been found to be more common in those of Native America, Russian, German, Latin, Asian or Jewish descent. Although melasma is more common in women, it can also affect men, particularly those who have melasma running in their family.

Excess skin pigmentation is a result of the over stimulation of melanocytes, the pigment producing cells, and this can be triggered by the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This is why pregnancy or taking a contraceptive can play a role in developing melasma.

More melanin pigments are also produced when skin is exposed to the skin, so those who live in a warmer climate are at greater risk. Melasma generally occurs during the summer months, when the skin is exposed to more sunlight.

There’s evidence to suggest that melasma runs in families and developing the skin condition can be down to a genetic predisposition. There’s also evidence that stress can increase the body’s production of a melanocyte-stimulating hormone. Melasma is also linked to thyroid disease.

In rare cases melasma can be the result of an allergic reaction to medication or cosmetics.

There are four different types of melasma:

  • Epidermal, which means excess melanin is present in the superficial layers of the skin
  • Dermal, which means the cells that ingest melanin are present throughout the dermis
  • Mixed, includes both epidermal and dermal characteristics
  • A fourth unnamed type commonly found in dark-skinned patients

The type of melasma you have usually dictates how it will be treated.

Treatment for melasma

For many, the signs of melasma can fade gradually over time, particularly after giving birth or coming off a contraceptive as the hormones return to normal levels. Specialists will recommend melasma patients avoid exposure to the sun wherever possible and use a broad spectrum sun screen to protect the skin and prevent it from getting any worse.

If your melasma does not improve over time, your GP or dermatologist might recommend a number of treatments to fade pigment in the affected area. Treatments can include:

  • Topical treatment, such as depigmenting agent hydroquinone
  • Tretinoin, an acid that increases skin cell turnover
  • Azelaic acid which decreases the activity of melanocytes
  • Chemical skin peels
  • Microdermabraison, or dermabraison
  • Galvanic or ultrasound facials
  • Laser treatment
  • Cosmetics, such a camouflage makeup to disguise the areas of deeper pigmentation

What to do if you think you have melasma

It’s estimated 45-50 million women around the world are living with melasma, and research shows it is the third most common pigmentary disorder of the skin so it’s important to remember you are not alone. Having a skin condition can significantly affect your confidence, so it’s important to seek help and find out what treatment options are available.

A skin specialist, called a dermatologist can diagnose melasma by visually examining the skin, or alternatively a special light called a Wood’s light can be used to identify the condition. Your dermatologist will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for your melasma.

If you have been diagnosed with melasma the prognosis is good. While the change in skin pigmentation can last for several years, the condition can gradually heal by itself over time. Some people experience a recurrence, particularly if they are exposed to the sun, which is why it’s important to reduce your UV exposure levels.

Taking care of your skin

Aside from the other obvious health benefits such as protecting against skin cancer and wrinkles, using a sunscreen can help prevent melasma. Experts recommend using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30, and using one which contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which act as physical blockers of harmful UV rays.

Like many other health problems in life, you may not be able to predict if you will ever experience melasma. However you can protect against the unknown by preparing for more serious, even life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, cancer and stroke by searching for the best critical illness cover with

While melasma is not connected with dangerous conditions like skin cancer, it’s a good idea to keep on top of any changes in your skin. Before you buy critical illness cover, check which cancers are covered in the plan as many providers do not cover skin cancer as standard.

Having comprehensive insurance in place in case you fall ill could prove to be a very wise decision, as critical illness cover can provide you with an income should you become too unwell to work.

Do you or someone you know have melasma? Tell us which treatments you’ve tried…

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