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Melasma Causes and Treatments

Posted on: February 18th, 2021 by Dr. Christopher Crosby

One of the common conditions we see at Grossmont Dermatology Medical Clinic is melasma, or unwanted pigmentation that often develops on the forehead, cheeks, chin and upper lip. This unwanted pigmentation can affect men and women of virtually all ages, but we see it most frequently in women of childbearing age.

Although melasma is harmless, it can be frustrating and cause feelings of embarrassment or shame. Luckily, our dermatologists are very knowledgeable about melasma and offer treatments for the condition.

Common Melasma Triggers

Melasma occurs when pigment-producing cells become hyperactive and produce too much pigment in certain areas of the skin. Although this process is similar to what causes freckles and age spots, melasma patches are usually much larger.

Several factors trigger the development of melasma. The first is the increase in hormones in pregnant women; in fact, melasma is so common in expecting mothers that it is sometimes referred to as the “pregnancy mask.” Another common trigger is the use of oral contraceptive pills.

Sun exposure can also cause or worsen melasma, which is why we see so many cases in sunny San Diego.

We know that melasma tends to affect patients with darker skin tones. If you are of Latin, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent, you are more likely to develop melasma.

Treating Melasma

Although there is no way to completely cure melasma, we have treatments to get it under control.

Sometimes topical skin lightening agents such as hydroquinone help with melasma. Hydroquinone may be prescribed in conjunction with corticosteroids or tretinoin to lighten the dark patches. These products should only be used under a doctor’s care.

Professional skin treatments, such as laser skin resurfacing or Clear + Brilliant laser treatment, can help clear up melasma. The pigment in melasma readily absorbs light energy, so laser treatments are quite effective. Microneedling is another treatment that is safe and effective on melasma; during microneedling, a needle-tipped device creates dozens of micro-wounds in the skin to trigger the body’s natural repair processes.

Sun protection is crucial to prevent the sun from exacerbating melasma. A diligent sunscreen routine is highly recommended to protect the skin year-round.

Learn More About Your Melasma Treatment Options

The key to fighting melasma is to find a dermatologist to walk you through your treatment options and find the best solution for your needs. Call or email our practice to request an appointment with our team today.

Coastal Skin & Eye Institute/Grossmont Dermatology