What You Don’t Know About Melasma, a Skin Condition That’s More Common Than You Think

When it comes to skin care, hormones can be our worst nightmare. Whether it’s acne in our teens (and again in our mid-20s) or the effects of menopause, it seems like hormones lash out on our skin in the worst of ways throughout every stage of our lives.

That said, there is one skin condition caused by hormones that has received recent recognition called melasma. And, as it turns out, many women have it. What is melasma? Find out when we go over some of the most surprising truths about the common skin condition.

What is melasma?

Melasma Circled

Melasma causes patches on the face. | Elord/Wikimedia Commons

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melasma is a common skin condition that “causes brown to gray-brown patches, usually on the face.” Most people experience the skin condition on their forehead, cheeks, bridge of their nose, chin, and on their upper lip.

It’s called the ‘mask of pregnancy’

Woman with dark patch on forehead skin

The skin is more sensitive to sunlight during pregnancy. | Cunaplus_M.Faba/iStock/Getty Images

Also called the “mask of pregnancy,” melasma can occur in up to 50% of pregnant women. “Because of pregnancy hormones, the skin is more sensitive to sunlight,” says Debra Jaliman, board-certified New York dermatologist, assistant professor of Dermatology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of the book Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “It can also occur because of birth control pills, sometimes there is no obvious cause,” she adds.

People with darker skin, hair, and eyes are more prone to get it

Beautiful black woman removing make up

Those with darker skin and hair are more prone to it. | m-imagephotography/iStock/Getty Images

While anyone can get it, women are the most prone to it. According to Jaliman, women with dark skin, dark hair, and dark eyes are most susceptible. “The more melanin you have, the more likely you will get melasma.”

It’s caused by hormones

Pregnancy hormones can cause it. | iStock/Getty Images

The cause of melasma? “Hormones,” says Jaliman. Whether its pregnancy hormones or added hormones from birth control, melasma is typically a side effect of added hormones.

It doesn’t go away naturally

dermatologist checking african woman face skin

You’ll probably have to visit a dermatologist to get it checked out. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

The downside to treating melasma? “It rarely goes away naturally,” says Jaliman. That said, there are various in-office treatments available that can get rid of it.

Over-the-counter products can be used to help fade melasma


Niacinamide can help even skin tone. | The Ordinary

Although you can’t make it go away forever on your own, you can use over-the-counter skin care products to help fade the look of melasma. “Use products containing niacinamide,” says Jaliman. “Niacinamide is a B vitamin also known as vitamin B3. It helps even skin tone [and] is a potent antioxidant,” she adds.

In addition to niacinamide, Jaliman suggests using a topical vitamin C serum to improve dark discoloration. “Tyrosine in the skin is converted into melanin, which is the pigment that darkens skin by way of an enzyme called tyrosinase. Vitamin C inhibits that enzyme, so less melanins is made [and] the skin gets lighter.”

The sun makes it worse

Woman hands putting sunscreen

Wear sunscreen every day to avoid it getting worst. | travnikovstudio/iStock/Getty Images

When caring for melasma-ridden skin, sun care is a must. Because the sun’s UV rays can darken the look of melasma, “it is important to use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every single day, rain or shine,” says Jaliman. “Ultraviolet light penetrates through the clouds [and] reflection off the sides of the clouds increases UV penetration,” she adds.

… So does irritation

Young Woman Receiving Facial Beauty Treatment

You could be making it worse instead of better. | puhhha/iStock/Getty Images

In addition to the sun, “irritation to the skin like microdermabrasion or a strong peel can flare it,” says Jaliman. And sunburns can definitely make it worse.

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