What is Melasma or Chloasma?

Melasma, also called pregnancy mask or chloasma, is a common skin condition characterized by the appearance of dark spots on the face. These hyperpigmentation spots usually appear on the cheeks, forehead, upper lip and chin. The main factors that can trigger and exacerbate melasma are sun exposure, genetics and hormonal changes. 

Although melasma is harmless to health, it can have a real emotional impact. This is why, for melasma awareness month, the team of scientists at Omy Laboratoires wanted to highlight the causes and treatments for melasma.

What is Melasma?

Melasma, also named " pregnancy mask" or "chloasma", is characterized by the appearance of brown spots on the face. These spots are the result of an overproduction of melanin - the pigment responsible for the color of our skin, eyes and hair.

Melasma is therefore a type of hyperpigmentation, alongside sun spots, age spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin C is one of the most popular ingredients for preventing the onset of melasma and reducing its appearance. 

How to Prevent Melasma?

Although there is no cure for melasma, it is possible to prevent it and reduce its appearance. Patience, perseverance and precaution are the watchwords for taking care of this skin condition.

The development of melasma can be limited using these following precautions :

Incorporate antioxidants into your routine

Antioxidants play a central role in the prevention of dark spots through their ability to neutralize free radicals. Exposure of the skin to pollution, ultraviolet rays and cigarette smoke leads to the production of free radicals, which in turn can trigger the appearance of brown spots on the face (5).

While vitamin C and niacinamide are among the most popular antioxidants, there are also natural extracts rich in antioxidants. For example, Omy's personalized day cream contains green tea extract to protect the skin from external aggressions during the day.

Use a good sunscreen

As sun exposure is a trigger and aggravator of melasma, it is essential to protect your skin from the sun. Opt for a tinted mineral sunscreen to protect your skin from both UVA, UVB and visible light. The pigments present in tinted sunscreens protect the skin from visible light, and more specifically from blue light, which can trigger the production of melanin in the skin and thus exacerbate melasma (4). 

It is also smart to protect your face with the wearing of wide-brimmed hats and protective clothing. Also, seek shade and avoid peak sunlight hours to avoid darkening of existing spots.

How to Reduce the Appearance of Chloasma?

To reduce the appearance of dark spots on the skin, it is possible to use certain ingredients and procedures:

Use chemical exfoliation

Exfoliation reduces the appearance of dark spots on the skin by promoting the elimination of brown cells on the surface of the skin. Chemical exfoliation, for example with a chemical peeling containing glycolic acid, is particularly effective in fading dark spots (6). 

Triple exfoliation, which combines the benefits of 3 types of exfoliation in a single product, is also highly recommended to soften dark spots. Microdermabrasion is another type of exfoliation that can help reduce the appearance of melasma.

Use effective ingredients

Several effective ingredients, including vitamin C and niacinamide, can help reduce the intensity of melasma (6). For example, niacinamide has been shown to reduce the appearance of melasma in volunteers after 8 weeks of use at a concentration of 4% (7). Consider adding a niacinamide serum  or even a vitamin C treatment in your skincare routine to fade the appearance of dark spots on your face. 

Some natural extracts also have the ability to diminish the appearance of spots on the skin. Among these extracts is the dragon fruit extract, an extract capable of effectively lightening pigment spots, which is among the ingredients that can be added to Omy's personalized products under the name of ingredient 7.

  • Get a topical prescription

Dermatologists may also prescribe topical treatments containing ingredients such as hydroquinone, corticosteroids, retinoids such as retinol, azelaic acid or even kojic acid (6). These treatments target dark spots through various mechanisms of action.

  • Perform laser treatments

Some laser treatments can help reduce the appearance of chloasma. Among these types of lasers are the intense pulsed light (IPL) laser, the Q-Switch laser, and the fractional laser. 

What causes Melasma?

The exact causes of melasma are still uncertain. However, it is recognized that many factors contribute to its development, including sun exposure, genetics and hormones. 

  • Sun exposure

Sun exposure can trigger or exacerbate melasma (1). In fact, the sun's UV rays stimulate the production of melanin in the skin following exposure, which can lead to the development of brown spots in some cases. 

  • Genetics

Genetics may also contribute to the development of melasma. Studies have observed that melasma often affects more than one member of the same family, suggesting a genetic predisposition (1). So, if you have a family history of this condition, you may be more likely to develop it yourself. 

  • Hormonal changes

Melasma is also strongly associated with hormones. This condition is more common in women, especially during times of hormonal changes such as pregnancy, hence the name “pregnancy mask” (2). Taking external hormones such as birth control pills, hormone therapy, and taking bioidentical hormones can also cause the development of melasma (2).

It is also estimated that melasma occurs in 10-15% of pregnant women and in 10-25% of women taking oral contraceptives. (3).

To get a diagnosis

If you have melasma, we recommend that you consult a dermatologist to establish an appropriate treatment plan for your specific situation. If in doubt, contact our skin experts for a free phone consultation or a consultation by videoconference.

In conclusion, melasma is a common skin condition characterized by the development of dark spots on the face. Although its exact cause is unclear, sun exposure, genetics, and hormonal changes are contributing factors to its development. Melasma can be prevented to some degree with good sunscreen and antioxidants. Finally, different options exist to reduce the appearance of chloasma, including exfoliation and the use of effective ingredients.

Women are mostly affected by melasma, but many men are also affected by this skin disorder.

Yes, it is possible to prevent melasma to some extent by using adequate sun protection and antioxidants in your skincare routine. Unfortunately, the genetic factor that greatly contributes to the development of melasma cannot be controlled.

Yes, melasma can be treated with effective treatments, although there is no cure for this skin condition.

  • Dermal melasma

This type of melasma affects the dermis, which is a deeper layer of skin.

  • Epidermal melasma

The most superficial form with hyperpigmentation of the epidermis.

  • Mixed melasma

A combination of dermal and epidermal melasma.

  • Centro-facial melasma

This is the most common form with spots present at the level of the forehead, nose, cheeks, upper lip and chin.

  • Malar melasma

This melasma is limited to the nose and cheeks.

  • Mandibular melasma

Characterized by brown spots at the level of the bone of the the lower jaw.

For melasma during pregnancy, no treatment is required since remission is usually spontaneous once the pregnancy is over. Brown spots, nicknamed "pregnancy mask", disappear naturally during the first months after childbirth in most cases.

It is recommended to use proven treatments for melasma to avoid worsening the skin condition. Indeed, the use of unsuited treatments could exacerbate melasma.