What Is Melasma?

Melasma is a skin condition characterized by brown or blue-gray patches or freckle-like spots on the face and is often referred to as a “pregnancy mask.”

It’s caused by the overproduction of the cells that produce the color in your skin. The good news is melasma usually fades after a few months.

The three types of melasma are: 

  1. Epidermal: Epidermal melasma has a dark brown color, a well-defined border
  2. Dermal: Dermal melasma has a light brown or bluish color, a blurry border
  3. Mixed melasma: Mixed melasma, which is the most common of the three, has both bluish and brown patches

Signs and Symptoms of Melasma

The most common signs of melasma are brown or gray-brown patches on the face.

These patches usually are seen on your:

  • Above the upper lip
  • Cheeks
  • Chin
  • Forehead
  • Nose

Causes of Melasma

Melasma appears on women’s skin much more often than men’s skin. Just 10% of people who get melasma are men.

What causes melasma is not yet clear. It likely occurs when the color-making cells in the skin (melanocytes) produce too much color. People with skin of color are more prone to melasma because they have more active melanocytes than people with light skin.

Common melasma triggers (what starts it) include:

  • Sun exposure: Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun stimulates the melanocytes. In fact, just a small amount of sun exposure can make melasma return after fading. Sun exposure is why melasma often is worse in summer. It also is the main reason why many people with melasma get it again and again.
  • A change in hormones: Pregnant women often get melasma. When melasma appears in pregnant women, it is called the mask of pregnancy. Birth control pills and hormone replacement medicine also can trigger melasma.
  • Skin care products: If a product irritates your skin, melasma can worsen.

If you have melasma, be sure to avoid:

  • Hormone treatments, specifically ones that involve estrogen
  • Birth control, specifically oral contraceptive pills that contain estrogen and progesterone
  • LED light from your television, laptop, cell phone and tablet
  • Makeup you find irritating to your skin
  • Medications that may cause or worsen melasma
  • Scented soaps
  • Skin care products that irritate your skin
  • Tanning beds
  • Waxing, which can aggravate the melasma

Melasma Treatments

Treatment is not always necessary for melasma. If hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or while taking birth control pills, have caused melasma, it will fade after delivery or once you stop taking the pills. If your melasma does not fade over time, our team will work with you find the best treatment for you to help remove or fade the patches.

Our options for treating melasma include:

  • Hydroquinone
  • Corticosteroids
  • Combined creams
  • Additional topical medications

Our team may also recommend one of these procedures:

  • Chemical peel
  • Dermabrasion
  • Laser treatment
  • Light therapy
  • Microdermabrasion