What Is Melasma?

Melasma is the term used to describe pigmentation related to hormone changes and ultraviolet (UV) rays that appears as symmetrical patches most often on the cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead, chin and upper lip.

What triggers melasma?

1) Sun exposure: Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun stimulates the melanocytes. Even a small amount of sun exposure can trigger melasma even after it has faded. Sun exposure explains why melasma is often worse in summer.

2) Hormonal changes: Pregnant women often get melasma. When melasma appears in pregnant women, it is also referred to as chloasma, or the mask of pregnancy. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can also trigger melasma.

3) Skin care products: If a product irritates your skin, it can cause melasma to worsen.

Treatment Options

Melasma can fade without treatment after a woman delivers her baby or stops taking birth control pills. However, quite often melasma remains and people look for treatments. Melasma often involves dermal (deep) as well as epidermal (more superficial) pigment making it difficult to treat.

Topical skin lightening ingredients: These include hydroquinone and non-hydroquinone options like kojic acid, arbutin, lightening peptides and other plant extracts.

Retinoids: These include non-prescription types like retinol and retinaldehyde and prescription types such as tretinoin.

Procedures: Chemical peels, microdermabrasion, dermabrasion, laser or light-based treatments may be tried. Please note though that light-based treatments could actually have the opposite effect by triggering melasma.

Combining retail and professional treatments: This may be your best approach. For example, using retinol and skin lighteners at home and chemical peels at the clinic will lead to better results than either option on its own.

Sunscreen: The most important tool is sunscreen since the sun’s UV rays actually trigger melasma.