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Causes and Symptoms of Melasma

Causes and Symptoms of Melasma
Quick Bites
  • Melasma caused by a variety of reasons ranging from exposure to sun to pregnancy.
  • Hyperpigmentation caused by melanoma is mostly seen in women in their reproductive years.
  • Women of Latin and Asian origins highly at risk of the medical problem.

Melasma is a common skin problem characterised by patchy brown, blue-gray or tan discolouration of the facial skin that is most commonly seen in women in their reproductive years.

PigmentationMelasma appears most commonly on the upper cheeks, the forehead, upper lip and chin of women aged between 20-50 years. Even though it is less common in men, they do have a possibility of developing this skin problem. Some of most common aspects that melasma is related to include:

•    hormonal changes in the body such as during pregnancy
•    exposure to the sun
•    use of external hormones like birth control pills.

Women in Latin and Asian countries or those of Latin and Asian descent are seen to be most commonly suffering from melasma.


Although, why exactly melasma is caused is not known yet, experts believe that there could be a series of factors that determine why one is more likely to develop the skin problem compared with another. These include pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, birth control pills, race, a history of melasma in the family, antiseizure medications or other types of medications that increase a person’s likelihood of developing pigmentation, especially after exposure to ultraviolet rays.

Exposure to Sunlight

When the skin is exposed uncontrollably to sunlight, the melanin under the surface of the skin begins to produce in abnormal numbers, making one highly susceptible to pigmentation. Besides, exposure to sunlight is definitely a cause for worry in individuals who have a genetic predisposition to the condition i.e. those who belong to a family that has a history of the medical condition. Several clinical studies have stated that individuals are most likely to develop melasma during summer when the heat is intense. As far as melasma during winter is concerned, the hyperpigmentation that it is characteristic of is less visible.


Melasma that occurs during pregnancy is also called ‘the mask of pregnancy’ or chloasma. Although, there is an increased level of changes in hormones during pregnancy such as the heightened production of progesterone, estrogen and melanocyte-stimulating hormone levels, it is the presence of increased levels of progesterone and not estrogen and MSH that is believed to be the cause of pregnancy-related melasma. This has been made even more evident by the presence of melasma in women who have been given progesterone hormone replacement therapy and those women who receive only estrogen are seen to be less likely to develop the skin problem.


People suffering from melasma are highly likely to transfer it to their children when they grow up. If you are born in a family of people with melasma, the best you can do to prevent it from developing is to avoid exposure to the sun at all costs. Apply a sunscreen before you step out at all times. Talk to your doctor about any other method of contraception other than birth control pills that will be most suitable for you.


One of the most common signs of melasms is brown or gray-brown patches on the face. The most common areas where they are likely to appear are cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead, above the upper lip and chin, though some people develop patches on the neck as well as forearms, which is comparatively less common. According to American Academy of Dermatology, melasma does not lead to any symptoms, but causes one to lose his/her self-esteem because of the patches on the skin.

Read more articles on Skin Conditions.

Written by
Bhadra Kamalasanan
Source: Onlymyhealth editorial teamAug 14, 2013

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