What is Melasma?

What is melasma exactly? Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it plays a crucial role in your overall health. Made up of three layers, skin acts as a protective layer against the cold, moisture, sun, injury, and more. But your skin also contains special cells that store and produce melanin. When stimulated, these cells produce more melanin and create dark patches of skin.

This condition is known as melasma. While not exactly harmful, melasma can make some people feel self-conscious about their appearance.

What is Melasma?

what is melasma close up of a womans face with melasma with chemical map overlay

Melasma is a condition that causes skin discoloration. Also known as the “mask of pregnancy,” melasma causes patches of darker-colored skin to appear. Although more common in women, men can also develop this condition and it is not limited to pregnant women. Data shows that 90% of people who develop melasma are women.

There are three main types of melasma:

  • Dermal: Brown or bluish in color. Dermal melasma does not typically respond well to conventional treatment.
  • Epidermal: Dark brown in color with a well-defined border. This form of melasma does respond well to treatment.
  • Mixed: The most common form of melasma. Mixed melasma has a mixed pattern and is somewhat responsive to treatments.

Contrary to what you may have heard, melasma is not cancerous, nor is it a sign of cancer. That said, some forms of skin cancer can mimic melasma, so it’s essential to see a dermatologist if you notice new, darker patches of skin.

Melasma Causes

Doctors still aren’t sure what causes melasma, but progesterone and estrogen sensitivity have been linked to the condition.

People with darker skin tones are at a greater risk of developing this condition than those with fair skin.

The hormonal link to this condition means that birth control, hormone therapy, and pregnancy can all trigger melasma. 

Thyroid disease and stress have also been linked to melasma. Sun exposure is another risk factor because UV rays can affect melanocytes, the cells that control skin pigment.

Other potential causes of this condition include:

  • Makeup: Certain cosmetics have phototoxic reactions that can cause melasma.
  • Genetics: Up to 50% of people with this condition have family members with the same condition. 

Melasma Symptoms

The primary symptom of melasma is patches of discolored skin. In most cases, these darker patches appear on the face and in a symmetrical fashion.

Melasma commonly develops on the:

  • Forehead
  • Cheeks
  • Chin
  • Nose

While more likely to appear on the face, melasma can also develop on other parts of the body, including the forearms and neck.

The good news is that the condition isn’t harmful, but you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about it. It doesn’t cause pain or itching. The only symptom you’ll notice is the change in your skin color.

When melasma is caused by birth control or pregnancy, the condition may just disappear on its own. Otherwise, the condition is considered a chronic one and can last three months or more. For some people, melasma lasts a lifetime.

Melasma Home Remedies

Melasma is notoriously stubborn and difficult to treat. However, there are some home remedies that may help ease your symptoms.

Aloe Vera

what is melasma close up of aloe vera slices leaves and oil in glass jar on wooden table

Research has shown that using aloe vera topically may help improve melasma in pregnant women.

Aloe vera is deeply hydrating and can penetrate deep into the skin to help protect against UV exposure.


Turmeric’s main active component is curcumin. Curcumin is an antioxidant, antimutagenic, and a potent anti-inflammatory agent. 

Additionally, turmeric can help protect against UV ray damage and even inhibit melanin production. When combined with other ingredients, like milk or gram flour, turmeric can help prevent hyperpigmentation. 

Black or Green Tea

When applied to the skin, black or green tea can act as a spot-lightening treatment. Both types of tea have astringent properties, but they can also help ease inflammation while moisturizing the skin.


Protecting your skin from sun exposure may help with symptoms of melasma or even help prevent it.


A powerful antioxidant, glutathione contains three amino acids: glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine.

One review found that taking glutathione orally can decrease symptoms of melasma compared to people taking a placebo.

Tomato Paste

The main compound in tomatoes is lycopene, which can help protect the skin from UV damage over the short term. Over the long term, tomato paste can help protect against photodamage caused by sun exposure. 

Applying a mask of tomato paste and moisturizing olive oil may help reduce melasma in a soothing, gentle way.

Final Thoughts 

Although there is no cure for melasma, the condition can be managed. The home remedies above may help ease your symptoms while protecting and nourishing your skin. 

While natural remedies can help with melasma, it’s still important to see your dermatologist to ensure that you actually have this condition. In addition, other skin conditions can be mistaken for melasma, so it’s important to get a formal diagnosis.

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