What is melasma and how can it be treated?

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Hyperpigmentation is often referred to as its own type of skin condition, when really, it’s a broad term that encompasses any darkening or discoloration of the skin. One such form of hyperpigmentation that’s become more recently talked about of late is melasma.

Melasma more commonly affects women than men, particularly post-pregnancy, which is why you may have seen new mums Laura Byrne, Snezana Wood and Shay Mitchell talking about it.

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And because it can be hard to differentiate between melasma and stock-standard pigmentation, (and therefore diagnose what your own skin is going through) we asked dermatologist Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan to fill us in on the skin condition. 

What is melasma? 

“Melasma is a brownish mottled pigmentation or discolouration commonly on the face due to the overproduction of melanin (pigment) by your melanocytes,” she explains. “It tends to appear on the forehead, upper cheeks and the skin above the upper lip.”

What are the common causes of melasma? 

Like other forms of pigmentation, sun exposure and sun damage are big contributors to the appearance of melasma, as well as “genetics, pregnancy, hormonal treatments like the oral contraceptive pill, or certain medications that make one more sun sensitive”. 

Is melasma harmful to the skin at all?

Aside from its appearance being psychologically distressing for many, the emergence of melasma is no cause for alarm. “It is a benign non-dangerous skin condition without any implications to your health,” confirms Dr Shyamalar.  

How to prevent melasma

Upping your sun protection game will help to prevent the appearance of melasma. Think, consistent use of a high SPF and broad-based sunscreen, with diligent reapplication throughout the day. Dr Shyamalar also recommends wearing “a wide brimmed hat to reduce reflection from surfaces and to wear  close-fitting and wrap-around sunglasses.” 

When it comes to the rest of skin care, she also says it’s important to invest in a good routine. Look to use products consisting of vitamin B3 and vitamin C, using these actives in the morning and then vitamin A cream at night. 

bh recommends:Rodan + Fields REVERSE Regimen, Key-Sun Zinke Clear Zinke SPF 50 and Hawaiian Tropic Duo Defence Face Lotion SPF50+

How to get rid of existing melasma 

As well as incorporating the above ingredients into your routine, Dr Shyamalar says there are some treatments that can help to minimise the appearance of existing melasma. 

“Your dermatologist [is likely to] prescribe a compounded topical hydroquinone preparation as a stand alone or in combination with topical retinoids and weak corticosteroids,” she says. “Azelaic acid (20 per cent) has been shown to lighten melasma when it’s superficial.”

She also notes that chemical peels have variable success in treating melasma, but have a part to play in conjunction with topical creams. 

Another new therapy with promising results, is taking tranexamic acid orally. Dr Shyamalar says “your dermatologist will be able to assess if you are a good candidate for this treatment option”. 

Main image credit: Getty

Have you ever experienced melasma? Do you have any tips for dealing with skin discoloration?

Share your thoughts

Comments 40

  1. Yup, have it. Discovered by chance when my dad asked me what is wrong with my face when I came from overseas. Since I could not see my face (was not into skincare/makeup/beauty, didn’t use mirrors, just to fix my hair), did not realize I had an “issue”. Went to doc, he said: you have melasma. Mustache and all. Now only I can see it, faded and broke down, mustache gone completely and forehead blotches. Just cheek area where people bronze, have some faint shading. I use: acids, vitA, B3. VitC does not work for me.

  2. I’m just starting to get melasma on my forehead now. It’s definitely in a place where SPF can come off easily after sweating (near the hairline). I just started using Vit C and a retinol at night with B3 so I’m looking forward to seeing if these will lighten these spots or whether there’s more to come!

  3. Thank You BH for such an informative article on melasma I have pigmentation on the backs of my legs and so many age spots I wished they would all join together at least it wouldn’t look as bad.

    At the moment using John Plunketts range of anti-dark Spot removers and Skin Milk.
    Definitely need to get a good quality Sunscreen.

  4. Stupidly I didn’t wear sunscreen when I was younger AND I loved to get a tan, so there’s no wonder I have discolouration. I’ve been able to fade it over the years, but not sure I’ll ever be able to remove it without more radical treatments

  5. Not diagnosed but sometimes I worry the freckles/discolouration above my lips is more than standard pigmentation, they just seem to be getting darker even when I am super strict with SPF daily.

  6. I’ve had a dmk facial and it was amazing ! There are all different types. Mine was for fine lines and to reduce pigmentation. It wasn’t a relaxing facial at all! Everything tightens up and goes hard like a rock! It’s known as the game of thrones facial!
    But afterwards – Jesus ! You see results haha I noticed a dramatic change in the colour of my pigmentation just from one session. I’ve only had the one facial but will go for one more! It’s nearly all gone already. Currently it’s so pale I don’t mind at all. So good to know it can be treated. Then I can try to target the fine lines haha

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