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Identifying Melasma and Treatment Options Offered | Medical Dermatology

What is melasma? Melasma is a brown patch of skin on the face that occurs due to sun exposure. These brown areas typically appear on the forehead, bridge of the nose, and cheeks. They may also appear on the forearms or any area that is commonly exposed to the sun. The condition is more common among people with darker skin, possibly because the melanocytes – the cells that produce pigment – are already more active than in people with light skin.

Is melasma a sunburn?

One of the most common misinterpretations of melasma is that it’s a temporary suntan or sunburn. But that’s not so. The brown spots formed by melasma are persistent and oftentimes appear splotchy. Yes, sometimes they do resolve on their own; however, they can also spread. There is also a hormonal link to skin darkening. Women are far more likely to be affected than men. Men only represent about 10% of cases. It is very common during pregnancy and is sometimes referred to as the mask of pregnancy. Women taking oral contraceptives can also be affected.

Is melasma harmful?

Melasma is not particularly harmful, nor does this skin discoloration have any symptoms. Regardless, many people dislike its appearance. Fortunately, there are many treatment options for melasma, including:

The results of melasma treatment can be temporary. Brown patches can reoccur if a person continues to be exposed to the sun. Even a small amount of sunlight can cause the brown patches to return.

How to prevent melasma

The best way to prevent melasma is to limit sun exposure. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun stimulates the melanocytes to produce more color. People should wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, not just on sunny days. UV rays can penetrate clouds and windows; as a result, susceptible people should wear sunscreen at all times. Protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, should be worn to reduce the amount of exposed skin. Make-up with a white or yellow base can conceal brown patches.

There are alternative tanning methods to exposing oneself to the harmful UV rays from the sun. Infinity Sun spray tanning, for example, is an effective sunless tanning method that will not expose your body to skin-damaging rays.

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