Melasma is a very common skin disorder that occurs on areas of the face that are exposed to the sun, creating dark discolorations on the skin.


Melasma can affect anyone, but it is more prevalent among young women with darker or olive skin types. It is also associated with female hormones estrogen and progesterone, making it more common in women who are pregnant, using hormone-based birth control (particularly oral contraceptives), or taking hormone replacement therapy. Because of this, melasma is sometimes called the “pregnancy mask.”

Because melasma occurs with sun exposure, this is a strong risk factor for the disorder and people living in tropical climates are at higher risk of developing it. Certain skin products can also irritate or worsen melasma.


Melasma generally manifests itself in a brown or gray discoloration across the cheeks, forehead, nose, chin or upper lip, and is most often uniform and symmetrical on both sides of the face. While it most commonly appears on the face, it can occasionally appear on other parts of the body with regular sun exposure, such as the neck and forearms. It can usually be diagnosed simply due to this appearance of the skin, although a closer examination using a Wood’s lamp is sometimes done. A biopsy may also need to be performed, in order to rule out other skin conditions and accurately diagnose melasma.

Although there are no other symptoms of melasma or associated discomfort, it creates a cosmetic concern for those affected by it. Melasma also appears to have a heredity factor, and people are more likely to suffer from it when they have a relative who has had the disorder.


Topical creams containing hydroquinone, tretinoin, azelaic acid and kojic acid can improve the symptoms and discoloration of melasma. Though not covered by insurance, microdermabrasion, Cosmelan Mask or chemical peels may also be recommended by a doctor or dermatologist. In severe cases, laser treatments can be used to remove very dark discoloration. It is very important to avoid sun exposure and use sunscreen to prevent melasma, especially among women who are pregnant, on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or using hormone birth control methods. Melasma often fades within several months of stopping HRT or birth control pills, and after childbirth.

Additional Melasma Resources