Commonly called “the mask of pregnancy,” melasma is a common skin problem found far more likely in women than men. Hormones can trigger the condition, which causes brown/gray patches of skin on the face, frequently along the cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead, chin and above the upper lip. Less commonly it can also appear on areas of the body frequently exposed to the sun like the forearms and neck.
While frustrating aesthetically, melasma does not cause any symptoms of discomfort or cause for concern. Sun protection is the most critical step in preventing and treating melasma. Sunscreen alone may not be sufficient and Dermatologists recommend sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat for better protection.
Melasma appears when the cells that make pigment in the skin (melanocytes) go into over-drive, which can be triggered by sun exposure and hormonal shifts. People with darker skin are more prone to melasma because they already have more active melanocytes than people with lighter skin.
Melasma can fade on its own when the trigger is temporary such as pregnancy or use of birth control pills. Some people will continue to struggle with melasma, and in those cases doctors can prescribe treatment plans, including:
Hydroquinone – this is a topical lotion that works by lightening the skin. While there are some over-the-counter strengths, more potent formulations are available by prescription
Azelic acid, Kojic acid, Vitamin C and other natural brighteners
Oral or topical tranexamic acid
Procedures administered by a dermatologist, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser treatments, or a light-based therapies