Melasma is a tan or dark skin discoloration. It is particularly common in women, especially pregnant women and those who are taking contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy medications.

Signs and Symptoms

Melasma is a patchy dark brown or grayish discoloration of the skin on the face, such as the cheeks, nose, upper lip and forehead. These patches often develop gradually over time. Melasma is also common in pre-menopausal women due to hormonal changes.


Melasma is caused when melanocytes (cells in the epidermal layer of the skin that produce a pigment called melanin) are stimulated by the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone to produce more melanin pigments in response to the skin being exposed to the sun. Women with a light brown skin type who are subject to regular exposure to the sun are most susceptible to developing this condition. Genetic predisposition is also a major factor in determining whether someone will develop melasma.


Melasma is usually diagnosed by simply looking the skin or with the assistance of a Wood’s lamp.


Discoloration usually disappears over a period of 2-3 months after giving birth, discontinuing oral contraceptives, or hormone replacement therapy. Treatment results last temporarily as the condition simply reappears when the skin is next exposed to the sun. Assessment by a dermatologist will help guide treatment from the following options:
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