Melasma is a common skin condition that produces brown or gray patches on the face. It typically occurs in areas of the skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the forehead, cheeks, nose and upper lip. In some cases, it can also be found on other parts of the body such as the forearms or neck.
Melasma affects both men and women but is more common among women of reproductive age, especially those with darker skin tones. The cause of melasma is not fully understood but is believed to be related to sun exposure, hormones or genetics.
History and Definition
Melasma is a skin condition that causes dark, discolored patches on the face, typically on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and upper lip. It was first described in 1910 as a localized form of melanosis and was later referred to as chloasma. In 1963, a study found an association between melasma and oral contraceptive use, linking pigmentation to hormonal exposure.
The exact cause of melasma is still not completely understood, but it is believed to be a combination of hormonal changes, sun exposure, and genetics. Melasma is a chronic condition that affects both men and women, and while there is no cure, there are various treatments available to reduce the appearance of discoloration.
Melasma is characterized by dark, discolored patches on the skin that typically appear on the face. The most common areas affected are the cheeks, forehead, nose, and upper lip, and the patches may be symmetrical on both sides of the face. The discoloration can range from light brown to dark gray-brown and may be blotchy or uniform in appearance.
In some cases, the patches may be itchy or have a slight burning sensation, but for most people, melasma does not cause any physical discomfort. In severe cases, the patches may be more noticeable with tanning, which can make the contrast between the discolored skin and surrounding areas more noticeable.
The exact cause of melasma is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of several factors, including:
- Hormonal changes: Melasma is often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy” due to its high prevalence in pregnant women, and it is also common in women who are taking oral contraceptives. Increased levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are believed to trigger the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin, leading to the development of melasma.
- Sun exposure: Sun exposure is a major trigger for melasma and can make the condition worse. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can darken the patches of discoloration and cause new ones to form.
- Genetics: Melasma tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component to the condition.
- Skin irritation: Certain topical cosmetics, skincare products, and medications can irritate the skin and trigger melasma.
- Other factors: Other factors that may contribute to the development of melasma include stress, certain medical conditions (e.g. thyroid disorders), and cosmetic procedures (e.g. chemical peels, microdermabrasion).
It is important to note that while these factors can increase the risk of developing melasma, not everyone who is exposed to them will develop the condition.
The diagnosis of melasma typically begins with a physical examination by a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon. In most cases, the appearance of the discolored patches is enough to diagnose melasma, but in some cases, a skin biopsy may be necessary to rule out other skin conditions that can cause discoloration.
In addition to a physical examination, the doctor may also ask the patient about their medical history, including any medications they are taking, as well as their sun exposure and skincare routine. The doctor may also perform a Wood’s lamp test, in which a special light is used to illuminate the skin, to help determine the depth and extent of the discoloration.
Once a diagnosis of melasma has been made, the doctor will work with the patient to develop a treatment plan to reduce the appearance of the discoloration. Treatment may involve a combination of topical medications, chemical peels, laser therapy, and lifestyle changes such as avoiding sun exposure and wearing protective clothing and sunblock.
Treatment of melasma may include:
- Topical medications: Topical medications, such as hydroquinone, tretinoin, and corticosteroids, can help lighten the discolored patches and prevent new ones from forming. These medications may be used alone or in combination with other treatments.
- Chemical peels: Chemical peels can help to remove the outer layer of skin, which contains the discolored patches, and promote the growth of new, healthy skin.
- Laser therapy: Laser therapy, such as intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, can help to break down the pigment in the discolored patches and promote the growth of new, healthy skin.
- Microdermabrasion: Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic procedure that involves removing the outer layer of skin using a machine that blasts microcrystals onto the skin. This can help to lighten the discolored patches and promote the growth of new, healthy skin.
- Lifestyle changes: In addition to medical treatments, making lifestyle changes such as avoiding sun exposure, wearing protective clothing and sunblock, and avoiding skin irritants can also help to manage melasma and prevent new patches from forming.
It is important to note that while these treatments can help to reduce the appearance of melasma, they are not a cure and the discoloration may return if exposure to triggering factors such as sun exposure and hormonal changes is not avoided.
Diagnostic Tests and Procedures
- Physical examination: A physical examination by a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon is typically the first step in diagnosing melasma.
- Wood’s lamp test: A Wood’s lamp test, in which a special light is used to illuminate the skin, can help the doctor determine the depth and extent of the discoloration.
- Skin biopsy: In rare cases, a skin biopsy may be necessary to rule out other skin conditions that can cause discoloration.
Surgery and Procedures
Melasma is not typically treated with surgery. However, in severe cases, laser therapy, chemical peels, or other cosmetic procedures may be used to reduce the appearance of discoloration.
The recovery time and outcomes following a cosmetic procedure for melasma will depend on the specific treatment used. After a chemical peel or laser therapy, the skin may be red, swollen, and slightly raw, and it may take several days or weeks for the discoloration to start to fade. Microdermabrasion typically has a shorter recovery time, and most people can return to normal activities within a few days.
It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions for post-procedure care, including avoiding sun exposure and wearing sunblock, to help promote healing and prevent the discoloration from returning.
Risk factors for melasma include:
- Sun exposure: Sun exposure is a major risk factor for melasma. The ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can trigger the production of pigment in the skin, leading to the development of discolored patches.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause, can increase the risk of developing melasma.
- Family history: A family history of melasma can increase the risk of developing the condition.
- Skin type: People with darker skin tones, such as those of Hispanic, Asian, or African descent, are at increased risk of developing melasma.
- Ethnicity: Melasma is more common in people of Hispanic, Asian, and African descent than in those of European descent.
- Age: Melasma can develop at any age, but it is most common in women in their 30s and 40s.
- Certain medications: Certain medications, such as hormone replacement therapy, anticonvulsants, and phenytoin, can increase the risk of developing melasma.
- Cosmetic products: Certain cosmetic products, such as fragrances and hair dyes, can increase the risk of developing melasma.
The main complication of melasma is cosmetic in nature, as the darkened patches of skin can be unsightly and affect one’s self-esteem and confidence. However, there are a few other potential complications associated with melasma:
- Psychological impact: Melasma can cause emotional distress, low self-esteem, and depression, especially in those with severe cases.
- Difficulty diagnosing other skin conditions: Melasma can sometimes mimic other skin conditions, making it difficult to diagnose and treat.
- Treatment-resistant melasma: In some cases, melasma may not respond well to treatment, leading to frustration and disappointment.
- Scarring: Aggressive or inappropriate treatment of melasma can result in scarring and further skin discoloration.
- Recurrence: Melasma may recur after successful treatment, especially if the underlying triggers are not addressed.
It is important to seek medical attention for melasma, as treatment can help to minimize the appearance of discolored patches and prevent any potential complications.
When to See a Doctor
It is a good idea to see a doctor if you have symptoms of melasma, such as discolored patches of skin on your face, neck, or arms. Additionally, you should see a doctor if:
- The discoloration is persistent and does not fade on its own.
- The discoloration is affecting your self-esteem or quality of life.
- The discoloration is accompanied by other symptoms, such as itching, burning, or blistering.
- The discoloration is not responding to over-the-counter skin-lightening products or home remedies.
- You have a history of hormonal changes or sun exposure, as these can increase the risk of developing melasma.
It is important to seek prompt medical attention for melasma, as early treatment can help to minimize the appearance of discolored patches and prevent any potential complications. A dermatologist, a plastic surgeon, or a skin specialist can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a customized treatment plan to meet your individual needs.
Step-by-Step Guide to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
Treating melasma can be a lengthy process, but with the right plan of action and care you will soon see results. Here is a step-by-step guide to successful treatment:
Begin your journey to clearer skin with a consultation with a qualified professional. During this time, your doctor will assess whether melasma is indeed the cause of your discoloration, as well as discuss the most suitable course of action for you based on the severity and location of your pigmentation.
Depending on the severity of your condition, surgery may be recommended for the complete removal of affected areas. This procedure usually involves laser resurfacing or dermabrasion to lighten dark spots and improve overall complexion.
After surgical removal of the pigmented areas, your doctor may recommend topical or oral medications to target remaining discoloration and prevent future outbreaks. These may include retinoids, corticosteroids, hydroquinone or other bleaching agents, vitamin C or kojic acid.
To further protect your skin from developing melasma in the long term, sun protection is essential. Aim for a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it throughout the day as needed. Additionally, wearing hats with wide brims and avoiding midday sun exposure can help minimize UV damage to your skin.
Following these steps will help you achieve smoother and brighter-looking skin. However, it is important to be patient as melasma treatment takes time and dedication. With the right plan of action and care you will soon start seeing a visible improvement in your skin health.
In conclusion, while the exact cause of melasma is not yet known, it is a common skin condition that usually affects people with darker skin tones. It can be managed through lifestyle changes such as avoiding sun exposure and using sunscreen regularly. Additionally, medical treatments such as topical medications or laser therapy may be used to reduce its symptoms. While melasma can be distressing for some individuals, there are effective ways to manage its symptoms and keep it from worsening.
BOOK AN APPOINTMENT TODAY
Ready to get the melasma treatment you deserve? Contact Dr. Colin Hong at (416) 222-6986 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a secure consultation! To ensure a timely response, be sure to leave your full name, phone number and email address along with a referral from your family doctor.
Dr. Hong has over 35 years of experience as one of Toronto’s top plastic surgeons and offers some of the most competitive rates for Reconstructive, Cosmetic and Plastic surgeries in Toronto, North York and Markham. Reach out today for more information on how he can help you get the skin results you desire!
Amazing experience, Doctor Hong is very confident and good at what he does. Every time I go to him I always get good results that I love and feel safe. Very friendly and helpful staff!