What is melasma?

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Melasma: Overview

Melasma is a condition that causes dark spots and patches on your skin. It usually happens on the face. It often occurs during pregnancy, and it usually fades after delivery. In other cases, the color changes last for years or they may go away and come back.

Doctors do not know exactly what causes melasma. It tends to run in families. It has been linked to changes in hormone levels from pregnancy or oral contraceptives. Other possible causes include the use of some medicines or cosmetics. It tends to get worse with exposure to light and the sun. Melasma is more common in people with darker skin.

Melasma does not cause other symptoms and does not lead to other physical health problems. It does not have to be treated. Some people choose to treat it if it is having an effect on their life. Avoiding the sun and using sun protection are keys to treatment. This includes using daily sunscreen and wearing sun-protective clothing. Some people use special makeup to cover up the patches. Medicated creams to lighten the patches are often used for treatment. In some cases, pills are used to lighten the skin. Chemical peels and laser and light therapy may be used as well.

Chemical peels and laser and light therapy can irritate the skin, which can make melasma worse. If you have darker skin, make sure you see a doctor who has experience using these procedures on darker skin.

How can you care for melasma?

  • Wear a hat to shade your face when you are outside. Being in the sun without protection can make the patches darker.
  • Always wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use it every day, even when it is cloudy.
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is the peak time for UV rays.
  • Use only gentle soap or cleanser on your face. Do not rub your face hard.
  • If your doctor prescribes or recommends face creams, use them exactly as directed.

Melasma: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The skin changes are getting worse.
  • You have questions about treatment.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.