What is Melasma and how can I treat it?


Melasma is a very common skin condition that occurs on the face with the appearance of brown patches. It can affect women and men of all ethnicities and skin types. The most typical places on the face for melasma to occur is on the cheeks, upper lip, nose and forehead. The cause of melasma is unknown, but sun exposure, skin irritation and hormones play a significant role. It can first start during pregnancy in women or with the use of oral contraceptives. These triggering factors stimulate cells in the skin to produce more melanin, which is the pigment in our skin that provides color.

The most important treatment for melasma is sun protection. Some patients note that their melasma improves in the winter, but then darkens again during sunnier months. As melasma is affected by both UVA and UVB rays, wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily that contains an SPF of at least 30 is essential to improve melasma. UVA rays can penetrate clouds and some types of glass, so sunscreen is necessary on overcast days or even while driving in the car! It is also important to re-apply your sunscreen every 2-3 hours.

In addition to sunscreen, there are other over-the-counter topicals that might improve melasma. Many of these topicals are called “bleaching creams”, yet they do not actually bleach the skin; rather, they try to reduce the production of melanin. Hydroquinone is the most commonly used ingredient and is available over-the-counter at low strength, and by prescription at a higher strength. Caution must be taken with this ingredient to not use it for an extended period. There are various other topicals available, some of which contain natural products. The staff at PLDI is happy to discuss with you at your appointment about our skin care products.

Chemical peels can also help improve melasma is some patients. Peels are typically performed as a series of treatments. These procedures involve the application of medical acids and ingredients which can improve the color and texture of your skin. As with the treatment of many other skin conditions, responses can vary. Melasma tends to be a chronic condition in most people and therefore recurrence is possible and most patients need to return for maintenance treatments.

Lasers can be an effective treatment for melasma and the providers at Physicians Laser and Dermatology Institute have developed multiple different laser regimens for patients with melasma. As mentioned above, melasma may worsen with skin irritation. That is why these procedures should be performed with great care by a provider who has experience with melasma. With at least 5 different lasers that target pigment and melanin in the skin, the providers at PLDI can specifically tailor your treatment to your condition and natural skin color. If you think you might have melasma, please schedule a consultation today with one of our board-certified dermatologists.