What is melasma?
Melasma, also called ‘chloasma’, is a common skin condition of adults in which light to dark brown or greyish pigmentation develops, mainly on the face. The name comes from melas, the Greek word for black. Although it can affect both genders and any race, it is more common in women and people with darker skin-types who live in sunny climates. Melasma usually becomes more noticeable in the summer and improves during the winter months. It is not an infection, it is not contagious and it is not due to an allergy. Also, it is not cancerous and will not change into skin cancer.
What causes melasma?
The exact cause is not known, but several factors contribute. These include pregnancy, hormonal drugs such as the contraceptive pill, and very occasionally medical conditions affecting hormone levels. Some cosmetics, especially those containing perfume, can bring on melasma. There is research to suggest that it can be triggered by stress. Sunshine and the use of sun-beds usually worsen any tendency to melasma.
Is melasma hereditary?
Melasma can run in families, suggesting an inherited tendency.
What does melasma look like?
Melasma is simply darker-than-normal skin affecting the cheeks, forehead, upper lip, nose and chin, usually in a symmetrical manner. It may be limited to the cheeks and nose or just occur overlying the jaw. The neck and, rarely, the forearms can also be affected. Areas of melasma are not raised.
What are the symptoms of melasma?
It is the cosmetic aspect of melasma that affected people tend to find upsetting. The affected skin is not itchy or sore.
How is melasma diagnosed?
Melasma is usually easily recognised by the characteristics of the pigmentation and its distribution on the face. Occasionally, your dermatologist may suggest that a small sample of skin (numbed by local anaesthetic) is removed for examination under the microscope (a biopsy) in order to exclude other diagnoses.
Can melasma be cured?
No, at present there is no cure for melasma, but there are several treatment options which may improve the appearance. Superficial pigmentation is easier to treat than deep pigmentation. If melasma occurs during pregnancy, it may resolve on its own within a few months after delivery and treatment may not be necessary.
To fnd out about available treatments for Melasma, please go to this page on the British Association of Dermatologists website.