Melasma is a common skin condition. Causing brown to gray-brown patches, Melasma usually appears on the face. The cheeks, bridge of nose, forehead, chin and upper lip are places where Melasma is likely to form. It also can develop on the forearms and neck.
Most Melasma occurs in women. Only 10% of those affected are men. People with darker skin tones, including those of Latin, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African descent, tend to have Melasma more than others.
What causes Melasma is still unknown. People with a family history of Melasma are more likely to develop this skin condition.
Pregnancy, birth control pills, cosmetics, hormone therapy, phototoxic drugs (make the skin more susceptible to light damage), antiseizure medication, and sun exposure often trigger Melasma. In fact, Melasma is so common during pregnancy that it is often called Chloasma, or the “mask of pregnancy”. Sun exposure can trigger Melasma because the pigment-producing cells in the skin (malanocytes) are stimulated by ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. People with skin of color have more active melanocytes than those with light skin, so they produce more pigment. This production increases when stimulated by light exposure or rising hormone levels. In fact, just a small amount of sun exposure is the main reason Melasma returns after fading.
Irritating the skin also may trigger Melanocytes in dark-skinned people to produce more pigment. This is why using a skin care product that irritates the skin may worsen Melasma.
Sometimes Melasma fades on its own. This is especially true after a pregnancy or when a woman stops taking birth control pills. If the Melasma does not gradually fade or a woman wants to continue taking birth control pills, Melasma can be treated.