What Is Melasma?

Melasma is a common skin condition characterized by the development of brown or grayish-brown patches on the skin, typically on areas of the face exposed to sunlight. These patches are often symmetrical and most commonly appear on the cheeks, forehead, bridge of the nose, and upper lip. Melasma is sometimes referred to as “chloasma” or the “mask of pregnancy” when it occurs in pregnant women.

Melasma is not harmful and does not cause any symptoms other than changes in skin pigmentation. However, it can be distressing for some individuals due to its cosmetic impact on the appearance of the skin. Treatment options for melasma may include topical medications (such as hydroquinone, tretinoin, and corticosteroids), chemical peels, laser therapy, and strict sun protection measures (including sunscreen use, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding sun exposure during peak hours).

What Causes Melasma?

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly increased levels of estrogen and progesterone, play a significant role in the development of melasma. This is supported by the fact that melasma commonly occurs during pregnancy (known as “chloasma” or the “mask of pregnancy”) and is also associated with hormonal changes related to oral contraceptive use or hormone replacement therapy.

Sun Exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a major contributing factor to melasma. Sun exposure stimulates the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. In individuals with melasma, excessive sun exposure can exacerbate existing patches and trigger the development of new ones. This is why melasma is often more pronounced in the summer months or after prolonged sun exposure.


Genetic predisposition may play a role in the development of melasma. Individuals with a family history of melasma are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Certain genetic factors may influence how the skin responds to hormonal changes and sun exposure, contributing to the development of melasma.


Melasma is more common in individuals with darker skin types, including those of Hispanic, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern descent. People with darker skin tones have higher levels of melanin, making them more susceptible to pigmentary changes like melasma.

Hormonal Factors

Other hormonal factors, such as thyroid disorders or certain medications that affect hormone levels, may contribute to the development of melasma in some cases. Hormonal imbalances or disturbances can disrupt melanin production and distribution in the skin, leading to the formation of melasma patches.