Melasma what is it? what causes it?

Melasma - What is it and what causes it?

May 13, 2022



Melasma – What is it and what causes it?


Do you experience brown or blue-ish grey patches on your skin? Do these patches appear to look like freckle spots, but are darker and closer together? You may be suffering from melasma. Melasma is a skin condition that is commonly associated with pregnancy. It occurs when the cells that contribute to the color of your skin are overly produced. It is a common skin condition that is harmless and usually fades within a few months. However, there are things you can do to speed up the treatment process. But first, let’s dive in and get a deeper understanding of melasma.


What does melasma look like?


As explained above. Melasma appears as light brown, dark brown, or blue-gray patches on your skin. They are flat patches that resemble freckles. They usually appear on your face, most commonly affecting the cheeks, upper lip, and forehead. Some may also experience melasma on their forearms. This common skin disorder, most often affects pregnant women, but can be experienced by anyone. Melasma usually will darken and lighten progressively overtime and gets worse in the summer, due to sun exposure.


Melasma can appear in six different locations or a combination of these locations:

  • Brachial: shoulders and upper arms
  • Centro facial: forehead, cheeks, nose, and upper lip
  • Lateral cheek pattern: both cheeks
  • Malar: cheeks and nose
  • Mandibular: jawline
  • Neck: usually in people aged 50 or older


Who is most affected by melasma?


This skin condition is completely harmless; however, it can often make people feel self-conscious. But you’re not alone! Melasma is very common and can affect anyone; however, it is most common in pregnant people affecting 15-50 percent.


People with fair skin are less likely to be affected than people with darker skin or those who tan well. It usually occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 40 and affects women more than men. Only 10% of men are usually affected my melasma, while 90% of women are.


What happens within the skin?


The epidermis layer of your skin contains cells that are called melanocytes, and they store and produce the pigment known as melanin. Things like light, heat, ultraviolet radiation, or hormonal stimulation can cause the melanocytes to produce more melanin, which in response, darkens your skin.


When a woman is pregnant, the hormonal levels of estrogen and progesterone are increased. These hormones are known to contribute to melasma and that’s why the skin condition is more common amongst pregnant women. This usually tends to fade after the pregnancy.


Types of melasma


Melasma can appear in three different ways, all having to do with the depth of pigment. It is important to identify what type you have in order to find proper treatment.


The first type is epidermal. This type of melasma is dark brown in color and has a well-defined border. This kind sometimes responds well to treatment.


The second type is dermal. It appears light brown or bluish in color and has no defined border. This kind doesn’t respond well to treatment.


The third type is mixed melasma. This type is the most common kind of melasma. It appears in bluish and brown patches and has a mixed pattern under black light. This kind responds well to treatment.


Is melasma dangerous?


Some associate melasma with being a sign of skin cancer or potentially leading to skin cancer. Melasma is not cancerous and won’t “turn into” cancer. However, some skin cancers can appear to look like melasma, so it is important to see your dermatologist to confirm what it is exactly that you are experiencing.


And as noted before, melasma is harmless; it shouldn’t be painful, itchy, or uncomfortable. If you are experiencing anything that gives you pain or discomfort, you should seek professional guidance to get a correct diagnosis.


What causes melasma?


The main causes of melasma are radiation, ultraviolet, visibly light, infrared (heat) light, and hormones. Melasma can worsen if overexposed to the sun. Some other potential causes of melasma are:

  • Antiseizure medications
  • Birth control
  • Estrogen/Diethylstilbestrol (man-made form of hormone estrogen)
  • Genetics
  • Hypothyroidism
  • LED screens
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormones
  • Makeup
  • Phototoxic drugs (medicine that makes you sensitive to sunlight)
  • Skincare products
  • Some scented soaps
  • Tanning beds


Does melasma go away on its own?


While it is possible for melasma to go away on its own, it takes a few months, and it depends on what is causing it. If you are pregnant or taking hormonal contraceptives like birth control, it most likely won’t go away on its own. There are preventative steps that you can take to avoid worsening your melasma like avoiding sunlight.


Make sure to read our next blog in this series that covers different treatment options and crucial ingredients that are proven to help melasma!