Melasma

Melasma is a common skin problem. It causes brown to gray-brown patches, usually on the face. Most people get it on their cheeks, bridge of their nose, forehead, chin, and above their upper lip. It also can appear on other parts of the body that get lots of sun, such as the forearms and neck. Although it is not harmful, many people dislike the way melasma looks and seek treatment to make it less noticeable.

Who gets melasma?

Melasma appears on women’s skin much more often than men’s skin. Just 10% of people who get melasma are men. People with darker skin, such as those of Latin/Hispanic, North African, African-American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, or Mediterranean descent are more likely to get melasma. People who have a blood relative who had melasma also are much more likely to get melasma.

What causes melasma?

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 chloasma, or 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.

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