Melasma is a skin condition that causes brown or grayish patches to form on the skin, usually on the forehead, chin, cheeks or other areas of the face. It can also appear on the neck, forearms or other areas of the body that have regular unprotected sun exposure. Melasma is much more common among women – only about 10 percent of melasma patients are men. It also occurs more commonly among people with darker skin types and those with a family history of the condition. Melasma is also more common during pregnancy, earning it the nickname of “the mask of pregnancy.”
Although the precise cause of melasma is not entirely understood, clinicians do know it can be triggered by too much sun exposure and hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or when taking birth control pills. Both sun exposure and hormones may act to trigger an overproduction of skin pigment or melanin, in certain areas of the skin. Certain cosmetic ingredients can cause melasma symptoms to become worse.
In most cases, melasma can be diagnosed through a skin evaluation and a medical history. In some cases, a biopsy (a small sample of skin) may be taken to rule out possible skin cancer or other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.
One of the best ways to treat or even prevent melasma is to be vigilant about sun protection, applying sunscreen every day and reapplying every two hours when outdoors, as well as wearing a wide-brimmed hat and other protective clothing to prevent overexposure. Sometimes, melasma may fade on its own, but often, it recurs, especially when sun exposure continues. Several medications are available to treat melasma, and procedures like chemical peels and lasers have also proven very effective.
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