What is Melasma and How is It Treated?

HK Vitals

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

Melasma, also known as chloasma, is a prevalent skin issue that results in dark, discolored patches on the face. While more common in women, men can also experience it. Typically found in individuals with light brown to darker skin tones, especially in sun-exposed areas, melasma manifests as brown or blue-gray patches on the face, notably on the cheeks, nose bridge, and forehead. This article explores melasma symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Melasma Symptoms

Melasma manifests as darker patches of discoloration on the face, usually symmetrical, with matching marks on both sides. Common areas affected include the forehead, cheeks, chin and bridge of the nose. Melasma may also occur on sun-exposed areas like the forearms and neck. While it doesn’t cause physical harm, the noticeable skin discoloration may lead to self-consciousness. If you observe these melasma symptoms, then it is advisable to consult a medical professional, who may refer you to a dermatologist specializing in skin disorders.

Melasma Causes

The exact cause of melasma is not fully understood, but it may be attributed to the malfunction of melanocytes, the skin’s color-making cells, leading to excessive pigmentation in specific areas. 

The risk factors for the development of melasma include:

  • Skin Color: Melasma is more common in people with light brown skin tones, especially in areas with high sun exposure.
  • Sun Exposure: Frequent exposure to the sun’s UV rays can lead to melasma.Gender: Melasma is about 9 times more prevalent in females than males.
  • Pregnancy: Melasma is more prevalent during pregnancy and affects 15% to 50% of pregnant individuals, possibly due to hormonal changes.
  • Genetics: Around half of the people with melasma have a family history of this condition.

Melasma Treatment

In certain cases, melasma may naturally fade, especially when triggered by factors like birth control pills or pregnancy. However, for individuals experiencing a persistent condition that doesn’t diminish over time, seeking treatment becomes an option for melasma cure. Various treatment options for melasma include:

Sun protection

Sunlight is a significant contributor to the exacerbation of melasma, both darkening existing patches and triggering the development of new ones. Dermatologists emphasize the importance of sun protection to manage melasma effectively. Recommendations include seeking shade, wearing a wide-brimmed hat outdoors and regularly applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Specifically for individuals with melasma, dermatologists often suggest sunscreens containing zinc oxide, iron oxide and titanium dioxide.

Medications for Melasma

Dermatologists may prescribe medications to address the excess pigment in the skin associated with melasma. These medications are typically applied topically at home, and your dermatologist might recommend one or a combination of the following:

  • Hydroquinone: A common melasma treatment option, hydroquinone is applied to the skin to promote an even skin tone. Note that hydroquinone is now available only through prescription, and over-the-counter products are no longer an option.
  • A Mild Corticosteroid and Tretinoin: Combining a retinoid (tretinoin) with an anti-inflammatory (corticosteroid) can help even out skin tone.
  • Triple Combination Cream: This cream incorporates three key medications – a corticosteroid for inflammation reduction, tretinoin (a retinoid) and hydroquinone for skin tone balance.
  • Other Medications: Depending on your skin’s sensitivity, dermatologists may prescribe alternative medications such as kojic acid, azelaic acid or vitamin C for a gentler approach.

Clinical Procedures for Melasma

A dermatologist may add one or more clinical procedures to the melasma treatment plan in order to optimize effectiveness. These may include:

  • Microneedling: This minimally invasive procedure creates microscopic tears in the skin. Over time, the healing skin becomes more balanced in tone.
  • Chemical Peel: This includes applying a chemical solution to the affected skin, which bleaches away excessive pigment and leads to an evenly-toned surface.
  • Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP): This involves withdrawing a small volume of blood and passing it through the machine to separate into layers, then injected back into skin from which melasma is recessed. PRP can help achieve an even skin tone.
  • Laser and Light Treatments: According to some research, if laser or light treatments are combined with medication and sun protection, the results can be promising in helping people treat their melasma.


Melasma, which presents as dark patches on the skin (mainly the face), is a common but benign condition. Though seen as normal, melasma can be distressing. It can hurt one’s self-esteem and affect interaction with others. Fortunately, melasma can be treated and preventive measures may also be taken. Sun exposure is key in melasma development, and easy preventive measures such as wearing sunscreen and a hat can help avoid its appearance. Dermatologists are well qualified to help in providing relief from melasma symptoms.


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