Melasma 101: What You Need to Know


Any semblance of a summer tan is likely gone by now as we hit the winter season. And while your bronzed skin may have faded, you might still notice dark patches on your face. Chances are you have developed a skin condition known as melasma. While annoying, it is a common disorder that can be treated with the help of a board-certified dermatologist and some perseverance. 

What is Melasma? 

Melasma is characterized by dark brown or gray patches that typically appear on the forehead, chin, upper lip and cheeks. Depending on where it presents itself, it can look like paint splatter. Many people who develop melasma on above their lip report that it looks like they have a mustache. The condition is also called “the mask of pregnancy” because many pregnant women develop hyperpigmentation that can look like a mask on the face. 

Whatever it looks like, melasma can take time and discipline to treat. Melasma is not a life-threatening condition and will not cause any long-term harm. However, it can be frustrating since the dark spots may take a while to clear and makeup cannot always cover the spots. Melasma can fade gradually on its own. For persistent melasma or hyperpigmentation, read on to learn more about the condition and then consult your dermatologist to develop a treatment plan. 

What Causes Melasma? 

Melasma is much more likely to affect women than men, with about 6 million women in American experiencing the condition. Women with darker skin tones are also more likely to develop melasma. It occurs when the pigment producing cells of the skin (melanocytes) produce too much pigment when triggered by certain outside influences. The two primary triggers for melasma are hormones and sun exposure. Heat also seems to make the condition worse. 


Melasma is linked to certain hormonal changes. For example, pregnant women tend to develop melasma at higher rates. Other hormonal changes such as the use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapies can trigger the condition.  

Sun exposure

When exposed to UV rays, melanocytes go into overdrive and produce more pigment in the skin. Direct exposure to the sun can trigger the condition, even if the primary cause is hormonal. 

What are the Available Treatments for Melasma? 

If you think you might be suffering with melasma, the first thing to do is get a professional diagnosis from your dermatologist. Your dermatologist will work with you to identify the underlying cause and triggers of your melasma. With this knowledge, you can develop a treatment plan to diminish your dark spots quickly and safely. 

Do not skip this step. Many people attempt to treat their skin on their own, purchasing hundreds of dollars in over the counter beauty products and fading creams. Those treatments will not be effective if your condition is not actually melasma, or if the aggravating factors are still in place. 

After talking to your dermatologist, one of the best things you can do to prevent current dark spots from worsening or more spots from appearing is to avoid exposure to the sun. Be vigilant about wearing a non-chemical sunscreen every day, even on days when you don’t plan on being outside. You can follow up with a makeup that contains an SPF and wear clothing to block the sun such as a hat or visor. 

Your dermatologist can recommend a variety of in-office and at-home treatments to help reduce the appearance of dark spots on the skin. Retinols can be used to increase the cell turnover process. 

Hydroquinone is a popular component in plenty of over-the-counter products that claim to fade dark spots. It is a lightening ingredient that blocks the production of melanin and can be very effective when used under the supervision of a dermatologist. Using products with high levels of hydroquinone can have adverse effects and can even make dark spots worse. 

There are also a variety of daily topical acids that can help increase cell turnover rates, including azelaic and kojic acid. Vitamin C serums can also be effective at brightening and improving the health of your skin. 

Melasma Treatment Atlanta 

Dr. Straughn at Buckhead Dermatology understands how frustrating it can be to fight dark spots and melasma. If you think you have melasma, contact our office today to schedule an appointment with our Atlanta and College Park melasma dermatologist. 

With time, discipline and an effective treatment plan from your dermatologist, you can significantly reduce your dark spots and improve the look of your skin. Call us today at 404-816-4000 to schedule an appointment at one of our two convenient locations in Atlanta and College Park.