Nili N. Alai, MD, FAAD
Dr. Alai is an actively practicing medical and surgical dermatologist in south Orange County, California. She has been a professor of dermatology and family medicine at the University of California, Irvine since 2000. She is U.S. board-certified in dermatology, a 10-year-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, and Fellow of the American Society of Mohs Surgery.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
- What is melasma? What are signs of melasma?
- What causes melasma?
- Where is melasma seen on the body?
- What are the types of melasma?
- How is melasma diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for melasma?
- What melasma treatments can I have at my doctor's office?
- Do lasers work for melasma?
- How does hydroquinone work in melasma?
- Are there non-hydroquinone alternative treatments for melasma?
- What is Tri-Luma?
- What SPF is recommended for melasma?
- Can melasma be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for melasma?
- Melasma At A Glance
- Patient Comments: Melasma - Causes
- Patient Comments: Melasma - Location on Body
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
What is melasma? What are signs of melasma?
Melasma is a very common patchy brown, tan, or blue-gray facial skin discoloration, almost entirely seen in women in the reproductive years. It typically appears on the upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead, and chin of women 20-50 years of age. Although possible, it is uncommon in males. It is thought to be primarily related to external sun exposure, external hormones like birth control pills, and internal hormonal changes as seen in pregnancy. Most people with melasma have a history of daily or intermittent sun exposure. Melasma is most common among pregnant women, especially those of Latin and Asian descents. People with olive or darker skin, like Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern individuals, have higher incidences of melasma.
An estimated 6 million women are living in the U.S. with melasma and 45-50 million women worldwide live with melasma; over 90% of all cases are women. Prevention is primarily aimed at facial sun protection and sun avoidance. Treatment requires regular sunscreen application and fading creams.
What causes melasma?
The exact cause of melasma remains unknown. Experts believe that the dark patches in melasma could be triggered by several factors, including pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT and progesterone), family history of melasma, race, antiseizure medications, and other medications that make the skin more prone to pigmentation after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Uncontrolled sunlight exposure is considered the leading cause of melasma, especially in individuals with a genetic predisposition to this condition. Clinical studies have shown that individuals typically develop melasma in the summer months, when the sun is most intense. In the winter, the hyperpigmentation in melasma tends to be less visible or lighter.
When melasma occurs during pregnancy, it is also called chloasma, or "the mask of pregnancy." Pregnant women experience increased estrogen, progesterone, and melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) levels during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. However, it is thought that pregnancy-related melasma is caused by the presence of increased levels of progesterone and not due to estrogen and MSH. Studies have shown that postmenopausal women who receive progesterone hormone replacement therapy are more likely to develop melasma. Postmenopausal women receiving estrogen alone seem less likely to develop melasma.
In addition, products or treatments that irritate the skin may cause an increase in melanin production and accelerate melasma symptoms.
People with a genetic predisposition or known family history of melasma are at an increased risk of developing melasma. Important prevention methods for these individuals include sun avoidance and application of extra sunblock to avoid stimulating pigment production. These individuals may also consider discussing their concerns with their doctor and avoiding birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) if possible.
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