If you notice it one day in the mirror while doing your daily skincare routine or examining a nasty pimple, you will pop up a spot that is a few shades darker than your actual skin color. If it is something a friend knows as Melasma, you are not alone – you may have noticed it in your face. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), women are twice as likely to develop Melasma (about 10% of people with Melasma are men), and people with darker skin are the most likely to spot the spots. The good news is that while Melasma can be challenging to treat (more on this below), it is not dangerous from a health point of view.
What is Melasma?
Melasma is a skin disease caused by discolored, dark spots on the skin. These patches can be a concern for those who have never seen them before, so we have consulted a dermatologist to give us the exact diagnosis, including what you can do to make them disappear and what you can do if you wish. Melasma spots appear on the face (forehead, cheeks, upper lip, melasma mustache) but can also appear along the back, neck, and forearms, says Annie González, a physician and dermatologist Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, Florida. The spots are darker than the skin tone and tend to look brown or brown-grey, she says.
What causes Melasma?
The short answer is that the experts do not yet know, probably because there is nothing to do at all.
Solar radiation plays a primary role in this type of hyperpigmentation, as does Melasma, including UV rays. It causes melanocyte cells in our skin to produce pigments in exuberance. The point is that people with darker skin are more susceptible to Melasma because they initially have a higher number of active melanocytes in their skin, says Dr. González. However, there is a hormonal component that distinguishes Melasma from other types of hyperpigmentation. Estrogen is to blame, says Jordan Carqueville, chief medical officer, certified dermatologist, founder, and medical director of the Derm Institute in Chicago. It’s unknown what exactly the mechanism of action triggers Melasma, but we know it’s a combination of hormones, sunlight, and genetics, he tells Health.
As it is, Melasma can occur early in pregnancy. When the estrogen levels are at their highest in the third trimester, about 15 to 50% of pregnant women develop Melasma, Dr. González says. Melasma influences factors such as hormones and genetics that cannot be under control, says Carqueville. Approximately 30-50% of people will have Melasma. There is nothing you can do about it.
Due to these risk factors, you can control exposure to the sun. Both Dr. González and Dr. Carqueville emphasize that safe exposure to the sun is the absolute best thing to do to keep Melasma at bay. This means not only using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (at least SPF 30) but also wearing a brimmed hat, looking for shadows, and avoiding the sun as much as possible. Here are the best treatments for Melasma.
How can you prevent Melasma?
Melasma is a benign disease, says Dr. Gonzales. It is an aesthetic thing, and if you like the look of your Melasma, people will do it. However, some treatment options for Melasma are more challenging to treat if you are not upset about having a dark spot on your face. While other forms of hyperpigmentation exist on the epidermis, the top layer of skin, Melasma, is found on the dermis, the deeper layer of skin, Dr. Carqueville said.
They are an excellent method to specifically break down the pigments at different levels of the skin, but it is essential to proceed with caution. Microneedling and peeling help: peeling helps lift the surface pigments, and microneedling can increase the absorption and effectiveness of topical treatment products, says Dr. Carqueville. Topical medicines containing hydroquinone are available over-the-counter, and these medicines work by inhibiting the production of enzymes necessary for the production of melanin pigments. For patients who are not pregnant: this is a big deal as these treatments are not safe for pregnant women, but these drugs tend to have a high success rate in reducing the occurrence of Melasma, says the dermatologist.