How to detect melasma
Main page:Skin topics
As we age, the skin develops marks and scars incurred due to hereditary and environmental factors. Most are harmless, like moles or birthmarks. However, you might develop an unfamiliar-looking mark that you suspect to be melasma.
If you develop dark marks on the skin and are concerned about their appearance, this article will tell you what you need to know about melasma.
What is Melasma?
Melasma is a common skin condition characterized by dark, freckle-like patches on the skin. The disorder is most common in women aged 20 to 40 and appears most commonly on the cheeks, upper lip, and forehead. Occasionally, it might appear on the forearms.
The outer layer of the skin—the epidermis—contains melanocytes that produce pigment. Melasma occurs when melanin in the skin responds to light, heat, and hormones.
There are three primary types of melasma.
- Dermal: dark-brown in color with a well-defined border that is evident under black light and responds well to treatment
- Epidermal: lighter brown or bluish in color with a blurry border that responds less effectively to treatment
- Mixed: bluish and brown patches that respond relatively well to treatment
The condition is harmless and painless.
What Causes Melasma?
As we mentioned, melasma is most common in women with darker skin tones, and is often associated with changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. Women taking birth control are also at risk of developing melasma.
Your genetics can play a large part in whether or not you develop melasma—roughly 50% of cases indicate a family history of the skin condition.
Another common cause is UV exposure. You are more likely to develop melasma if you spend extended periods under the sun without protection. The same goes for frequent use of tanning beds.
In addition, some medications are phototoxic or make you more sensitive to sunlight. These include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), antibiotics, diuretics, antipsychotics, and retinoids.
Symptoms of Melasma
Light or dark brown specks on the skin usually indicate melasma. However, this may not always be the case unless they appear in the following areas.
- Shoulders and upper arms (brachial)
- Jawline (mandibular)
- Forehead, cheeks, nose, and upper lip (centrofacial)
- Cheeks and nose (malar)
In most cases of melasma, the marks are flat and symmetrical. Compared to age or liver spots, melasma marks are larger.
If you suspect melasma, a dermatologist can usually confirm this through a simple visual exam. A common testing technique is the Wood’s lamp examination, during which a special-made light can determine whether the marks on your skin are melasma.
Your dermatologist might also test for bacterial or fungal infections. Your dermatologist might request a biopsy if they suspect a more severe skin condition in some rare cases.
How to Treat Melasma
While challenging to treat, melasma rarely poses severe health consequences. In most cases, melasma may disappear on its own, especially if it’s the result of birth control pills.
Your dermatologist might recommend a lightening cream or topical steroid, depending on your unique condition. Some of these topical medications or oral medications might include the following.
- Azelaic acid
- Soybean extract
More severe cases might require alternative treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or dermabrasion.
While these procedures can temporarily eliminate melasma, there is no guarantee that the condition will not return.
You can prevent melasma from redeveloping by avoiding the following.
- Hormone treatments that involve estrogen and progesterone
- Overexposure to LED lights from digital screens
- Skincare products that irritate the skin
- Makeup that irritates the skin
- Medications that may exacerbate melasma
- Fragranced soaps
- Tanning beds or UV overexposure
In addition, ensure that you apply a sufficient amount of sunscreen when you spend time outdoors. Most dermatologists recommend a full-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 50.
The Bottom Line
While melasma can take a hit to your self-esteem, the condition is generally harmless, painless, and won’t require rigorous treatment. However, adhering to a regular and effective skincare routine can prevent melasma from occurring or worsening.
If you’re looking for carefully curated and scientifically backed skincare products to incorporate into your regimen, Louis Widmer has the best options for sensitive skin. Our lightly-scented products help to clarify and clear, all for an affordable price.