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Melasma (also known as chloasma faciei,[1]: 854  or the mask of pregnancy[2] when present in pregnant women) is a tan or dark skin discoloration. Melasma is thought to be caused by sun exposure, genetic predisposition, hormone changes, and skin irritation.[3] Although it can affect anyone, it is particularly common in women, especially pregnant women and those who are taking oral or patch contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy medications.[3]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

The symptoms of melasma are dark, irregular, well-demarcated, hyperpigmented macules to patches. These patches often develop gradually over time. Melasma does not cause any other symptoms beyond the cosmetic discoloration.[4] Patches can vary in size from 0.5 cm to larger than 10 cm depending on the person. Its location can be categorized as centrofacial, malar, or mandibular. The most common is centrofacial, in which patches appear on the cheeks, nose, upper lip, forehead, and chin. The mandibular category accounts for patches on the bilateral rami, while the malar location accounts for patches only on the nose and cheeks.[5]


The exact cause of melasma is unknown.[6]

Melasma is thought to be the stimulation of melanocytes (cells in the dermal layer, which transfer the pigment melanin to the keratinocytes of skin) when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun. Small amounts of sun exposure can make melasma return to the skin after it has faded, which is why people with melasma often get it again and again, particularly in the summer.[3]

Pregnant women often get melasma, or chloasma, known as the mask of pregnancy. Birth-control pills and hormone replacement therapy also can trigger melasma. The discoloration usually disappears spontaneously over a period of several months after giving birth or stopping the oral contraceptives or hormone treatment.[3]

Genetic predisposition is also a major factor in determining whether someone will develop melasma. People with the Fitzpatrick skin type III or greater from African, Asian, or Hispanic descent are at a much higher risk than others.[5] In addition, women with a light brown skin type who are living in regions with intense sun exposure are particularly susceptible to developing this condition.[4]

The incidence of melasma also increases in patients with thyroid disease.[7] It is thought that the overproduction of melanocyte-stimulating hormone brought on by stress can cause outbreaks of this condition. Other rare causes of melasma include allergic reaction to medications and cosmetics.

Addison's disease[edit]

Melasma suprarenale (Latin: 'above the kidneys') is a symptom of Addison's disease, particularly when caused by pressure or minor injury to the skin, as discovered by FJJ Schmidt of Rotterdam in 1859.[citation needed]



The two different kinds of melasma are epidermal and dermal.

  • Dermal melasma occurs when the dermal macrophages have an elevated melanin level.[6] Melasma is usually diagnosed visually or with assistance of a Wood's lamp (340–400 nm wavelength).[4][8] Under Wood's lamp, excess melanin in the epidermis can be distinguished from that of the dermis. This is done by looking at how dark the melasma appears; dermal melasma appears darker than epidermal melasma under the Wood's lamp.[6]


The severity of facial melasma may be assessed by colorimetry, mexametry, and the melasma area and severity index (MASI) score.[6]

Differential diagnoses[edit]

Melasma should be differentiated from freckles, solar lentigo, toxic melanoderma, Riehl melanosis, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, friction melanosis, ochronosis (endogenous and exogenous), and cutaneous erythematosus lupus.[8] Additionally, it should not be confused with phytophotodermatosis, pellagra, endogenous phototoxicity, nevus of Ota, café au lait macules, seborrheic keratosis, Poikiloderma of Civatte, acquired bilateral nevus of ota-like macules (Hori's nevus), periorbital hyperpigmentation, erythrose pigmentaire peribuccale of Brocq, erythromelanosis follicularis faciei, facial acanthosis nigricans, and actinic lichen planus.[8]

Also, cases of drug-induced pigmentation have been reported, caused by amiodarone, or hydroquinone-induced exogenous ochronosis (see ochronosis treatment).[8]


Doctor performing treatment for melasma with KTP laser
Doctor performing treatment for melasma with potassium titanyl phosphate laser

Assessment by a dermatologist can help guide treatment. Treatments to hasten the fading of the discolored patches include:


Evidence-based reviews found that the most effective therapy for melasma includes a combination of topical agents.[10][9] Triple combination creams formulated with hydroquinone, tretinoin, and a steroid component have shown to be more effective than dual combination therapy or hydroquinone alone.[19] More recently, a systematic review found that oral medications also have a role in melasma treatment, and have been shown to be efficacious with a minimal number and severity of adverse events. Oral medications and dietary supplements employed in the treatment of melasma include tranexamic acid, Polypodium leucotomos extract, beta‐carotenoid, melatonin, and procyanidin.[20]

Oral procyanidin combined with vitamins A, C, and E shows promise as safe and effective for epidermal melasma. In an 8-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 56 Filipino women, treatment was associated with significant improvements in the left and right malar regions, and was safe and well tolerated.[21]

In all of these treatments, the effects are gradual and a strict avoidance of sunlight is required. The use of broad-spectrum sunscreens with physical blockers, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, is preferred,[22] because UV-A, UV-B, and visible lights are all capable of stimulating pigment production.

Many negative side effects can go along with these treatments, and treatments often are unsatisfying overall. Scarring, irritation, lighter patches of skin, and contact dermatitis are all commonly seen.[6] Patients should avoid other precipitants, including hormonal triggers. Cosmetic camouflage can also be used to hide melasma.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ James, William; Berger, Timothy; Elston, Dirk (2005). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. (10th ed.). Saunders. ISBN 0-7216-2921-0.
  2. ^ Tunzi, M; Gray, GR (January 2007). "Common skin conditions during pregnancy". Am Fam Physician. 75 (2): 211–18. PMID 17263216.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Melasma | American Academy of Dermatology". www.aad.org. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  4. ^ a b c "Melasma | American Academy of Dermatology". www.aad.org. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  5. ^ a b c Arndt, Kenneth A., 1936- (2014-02-05). Manual of dermatologic therapeutics. Hsu, Jeffrey T. S. (Eighth ed.). [Place of publication not identified]. ISBN 978-1-4698-7200-1. OCLC 953864747.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b c d e Evidence-based dermatology. Williams, Hywel C.,, Bigby, Michael E. (Third ed.). Chichester, West Sussex. 2014-06-05. ISBN 978-1-118-35762-0. OCLC 867001321.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ Lutfi, R. J.; Fridmanis, M; Misiunas, A. L.; Pafume, O; Gonzalez, E. A.; Villemur, J. A.; Mazzini, M. A.; Niepomniszcze, H (1985). "Association of melasma with thyroid autoimmunity and other thyroidal abnormalities and their relationship to the origin of the melasma". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 61 (1): 28–31. doi:10.1210/jcem-61-1-28. PMID 3923030.
  8. ^ a b c d Handel, Ana Carolina; Miot, Luciane Donida Bartoli; Miot, Hélio Amante (2014). "Melasma: a clinical and epidemiological review". Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 89 (5): 771–782. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20143063. ISSN 0365-0596. PMC 4155956. PMID 25184917.
  9. ^ a b Jutley, Gurpreet Singh; Rajaratnam, Ratna; Halpern, James; Salim, Asad; Emmett, Charis (2014-02-01). "Systematic review of randomized controlled trials on interventions for melasma: an abridged Cochrane review". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 70 (2): 369–373. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2013.07.044. ISSN 1097-6787. PMID 24438951.
  10. ^ a b Rivas, Shelly; Pandya, Amit G. (2013-10-01). "Treatment of melasma with topical agents, peels and lasers: an evidence-based review". American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 14 (5): 359–376. doi:10.1007/s40257-013-0038-4. ISSN 1179-1888. PMID 23881551. S2CID 30637840.
  11. ^ Breathnach, A. S. (January 1996). "Melanin hyperpigmentation of skin: melasma, topical treatment with azelaic acid, and other therapies". Cutis. 57 (1 Suppl): 36–45. ISSN 0011-4162. PMID 8654129.
  12. ^ WOMAN Trial Collaborators (2017). "Effect of early tranexamic acid administration on mortality, hysterectomy, and other morbidities in women with post-partum haemorrhage (WOMAN): an international, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial". Lancet. 389 (10084): 2105–2116. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30638-4. PMC 5446563. PMID 28456509. {{cite journal}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  13. ^ Mansouri, P.; Farshi, S.; Hashemi, Z.; Kasraee, B. (2015-07-01). "Evaluation of the efficacy of cysteamine 5% cream in the treatment of epidermal melasma: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial". British Journal of Dermatology. 173 (1): 209–217. doi:10.1111/bjd.13424. ISSN 1365-2133. PMID 25251767. S2CID 21618233.
  14. ^ Bleehen, S. S.; Pathak, M. A.; Hori, Y.; Fitzpatrick, T. B. (1968-02-01). "Depigmentation of skin with 4-isopropylcatechol, mercaptoamines, and other compounds". The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 50 (2): 103–117. doi:10.1038/jid.1968.13. ISSN 0022-202X. PMID 5641641.
  15. ^ Qiu, L.; Zhang, M.; Sturm, R. A.; Gardiner, B.; Tonks, I.; Kay, G.; Parsons, P. G. (2000-01-01). "Inhibition of melanin synthesis by cystamine in human melanoma cells". The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 114 (1): 21–27. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1747.2000.00826.x. ISSN 0022-202X. PMID 10620110.
  16. ^ Adalatkhah, Hassan; Sadeghi-Bazargani, Homayoun (2015-01-01). "The first clinical experience on efficacy of topical flutamide on melasma compared with topical hydroquinone: a randomized clinical trial". Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 9: 4219–4225. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S80713. ISSN 1177-8881. PMC 4531037. PMID 26345129.
  17. ^ Chaudhary, Savita; Dayal, Surabhi (2013-10-01). "Efficacy of combination of glycolic acid peeling with topical regimen in treatment of melasma". Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 12 (10): 1149–1153. ISSN 1545-9616. PMID 24085051.
  18. ^ "Melasma: Diagnosis and treatment". www.aad.org. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  19. ^ Rajaratnam, Ratna; Halpern, James; Salim, Asad; Emmett, Charis (2010-07-07). "Interventions for melasma". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (7): CD003583. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003583.pub2. ISSN 1465-1858. PMID 20614435.
  20. ^ Zhou, Linghong Linda; Baibergenova, Akerke (2017-09-01). "Melasma: systematic review of the systemic treatments". International Journal of Dermatology. 56 (9): 902–908. doi:10.1111/ijd.13578. ISSN 1365-4632. PMID 28239840. S2CID 21683251.
  21. ^ Handog, Evangeline (2009-07-20). "A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral procyanidin with Vitamins A, C, E for melasma among Filipino women". International Journal of Dermatology. 48 (8): 896–901. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2009.04130.x. PMID 19659873.
  22. ^ "Melasma: Tips for managing". www.aad.org. Retrieved 2020-10-19.

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