Chloasma, also commonly referred to as melasma, is a skin condition that occurs primarily on the face. It causes dark brown discoloration, mostly in small patches across the face. The condition is not necessarily dangerous, but it can be treated for cosmetic purposes.
Estrogen and progesterone, two female sex hormones, are thought to be one of the main causes of chloasma. Changes in estrogen and progesterone hormones make a woman more likely to develop the skin condition. These hormone level changes can be a result of pregnancy, oral contraceptives, or hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause. The condition does not occur solely in women, it can affect men as well. When female hormone levels aren’t the culprit of the skin condition, it is thought that excessive sun exposure is the cause.
The main symptom of chloasma is dark brown speckles or patches across the facial skin. It tends to develop most often on the forehead, nose, cheeks, or above the upper lip. When the dark brown areas occur on the face, it is usually symmetrical and appears nearly identical on both sides of the face. The discoloration is not a health concern, but can make a person feel self-conscious about his or her appearance.
There are a variety of chloasma treatment options to reduce or eliminate the dark brown pigmentation on the facial skin. If the condition is the result of pregnancy, it will usually subside without treatment after the woman gives birth. For other mild cases of the skin condition, prescription topical creams that contain kojic acid, azelaic acid, tretinoin, or certain steroids, which may be able to lighten parts of the skin. Chemical peels, a skincare treatment performed in spas or salons that uses the application of chemicals to remove the outer skin cells, may also be used to help reduce the darkened skin patches. Lasers can also be implemented to remove dark skin pigment, but it is a serious and expensive procedure that is typically only recommended if other treatment options have not worked.
Certain measures can be taken to help prevent chloasma or keep it from worsening or reoccurring. People who know they are at risk for the condition, such as pregnant or menopausal women, women taking birth control pills, or people who live in tropical climates, can attempt to limit their sun exposure. When out in the sun, they can wear lightweight clothing, hats, and use sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF).