Melasma is a common skin problem that occurs when sun exposure causes brown or grayish-brown patches to appear on the skin. Melasma most often appears in areas of the face that are more frequently exposed to the sun, such as cheeks, forehead, bridge of nose, chin, and above the upper lip; it may also occur on other body parts, such as shoulders, forearms, and neck, after extended or concentrated sun exposure.
Melasma can happen to anyone, but it is more prevalent among young women with darker or olive skin tones. It is also linked with the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, which makes it more common in women who are pregnant, using oral contraceptives, or taking hormone replacement therapy. Because of this, melasma is sometimes referred to as the “pregnancy mask.” There is also a heredity factor when it comes to melasma, so people are more likely to be affected when it runs in the family.
Melasma usually appears uniform and symmetrical on both sides of the face. Other than an unfavorable cosmetic appearance, there are no other symptoms of melasma or associated discomfort. Due to its obvious appearance of the skin, an experienced dermatologist can often diagnose melasma by a visual exam, but sometimes a closer examination using a Wood’s lamp is necessary. In some cases, biopsy may need to be performed in order to rule out other skin conditions and accurately diagnose melasma.
Maintaining adequate sun protection is the best way to safeguard our skin from the disorder. This means always wearing a quality sunscreen and reapplying it often. It is also wise to cover up with a wide-brimmed hat while outdoors, being sunscreen alone may not always be enough to give us the level of protection we need.