Melasma, formerly known as chloasma, is a common skin problem characterized by dark, discolored patches on your skin. These patches typically occur on both sides of the face in a symmetrical pattern.
It is significantly more common in women and darker skin types, but it can occur in men and all skin colors.
What Causes Melasma?
The understanding of melasma’s cause is incomplete. However, ultraviolet (UV) light exposure seems to be a substantial factor.
The sun’s UV rays promote melanogenesis – the production of the melanin pigment that gives color to our skin. Even when the skin is not burned, the sun’s rays can activate melanocytes to produce more pigment.
Melasma often looks worse in the summer or immediately after intense sun exposure and may look less evident in the winter.
Because it affects women more often than men, estrogen, and progesterone are also associated with the prevalence of melasma. Pregnancy, birth control pills, and hormone therapy can trigger the condition.
Stress and inflammation are also associated with the presence and worsening of melasma spots.
Is Melasma Treatable?
When melasma occurs due to pregnancy or birth control pills, it often goes away on its own when these hormonal factors are removed or concluded.
Melasma is not dangerous, and there are no known links to other medical conditions. Still, some people want to get rid of it because the discolored appearance affects their self-confidence and quality of life.
If you notice your melasma getting worse, you can always talk to your doctor or dermatologist about it.
Management options involve preventing further sun damage, reducing inflammation, and balancing out pigmentation.
Sunscreen and topical skin creams help protect against UV damage and improve your skin’s overall health.
Oral medications may be prescribed to reduce melanocyte-stimulating hormones, decreasing pigment production.
Procedures that strip away the top layers of skin can also be used to lighten dark patches, such as chemical peels, micro-needling, and laser treatments.
Living With Melasma
Treatment plans are imperfect and do not guarantee your melasma won’t come back. They work better for some people than others.
Sometimes the treatment options are not worth the risk, and because it is not medically necessary, insurance may not cover the cost.
Avoiding sun exposure and using SPF 30+ sunscreen any time you are outside can help minimize discoloration and prevent your melasma from getting worse. Even when it is cloudy or cold out, be aware that the sun’s UV rays can still penetrate your skin.
Using makeup can also help balance the appearance of your skin tone. Even if it doesn’t cure the underlying condition, it can certainly give you more self-confidence and help you feel better on a day-to-day basis.
Melasma is not physically harmful, so dealing with your emotional relationship with your skin and finding ways to feel good about the way you look is most important.