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Melasma

Definition

Melasma are patches of dark skin that appear on areas of the face that are exposed to the sun.

Alternative Names

Chloasma; Mask of pregnancy; Pregnancy mask

Causes

Melasma is a common skin disorder. It most often appears in young women with brownish skin tone, but it can affect anyone.

Melasma is often associated with the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is common in:

  • Pregnant women
  • Women taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
  • Women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause.

Being in the sun makes melasma more likely to develop. The problem is more common in tropical climates.

Symptoms

The only symptom of melasma is a change in skin color. However, this color change can cause distress about your appearance.

The skin color changes are most often an even brown color. They usually appear on the cheeks, forehead, nose, or upper lip. Dark patches are usually symmetrical.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will look at your skin to diagnose the problem. A closer exam using a device called a Wood's lamp (which uses ultraviolet light) may help guide your treatment.

Treatment

Treatments may include:

  • Creams that contain certain substances to improve the appearance of melasma
  • Chemical peels or topical steroid creams
  • Laser treatments to remove the dark pigment if melasma is severe
  • Stopping hormone medicines that may be causing the problem
  • Medicines taken by mouth

Outlook (Prognosis)

Melasma often fades over several months after you stop taking hormone medicines or your pregnancy ends. The problem may come back in future pregnancies or if you use these medicines again. It may also come back from sun exposure.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have darkening of your face that does not go away.

Prevention

Use a broad spectrum high SPF sunscreen every day to prevent melasma. Sunscreen use also helps prevent skin cancer and wrinkles.

References

Habif TP. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 19.

James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM. Disturbances of pigmentation. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 36.

Review Date:10/24/2016
Reviewed By:David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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