What is chloasma?

Chloasma (melasma) is a common skin problem. It causes brown to gray-brown patches on the face. Most people get it on their cheeks, bridge of their nose, forehead, chin, and above their upper lip. It also can appear on other parts of the body that get lots of sunlight, such as the forearms and neck.

How common is chloasma?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 90 percent of people who develop chloasma are women. People with darker skin, such as those of Latin/Hispanic, North African, African-American, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean descent are more likely to get chloasma. People who have a blood relative who had chloasma also are much more likely to get chloasma.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of chloasma?

Chloasma causes patches of discoloration. The patches are darker than your typical skin color. It typically occurs on the face and is symmetrical, with matching marks on both sides of your face. Other areas of your body that are often exposed to sun can also develop chloasma.

Brownish colored patches usually appear on the:

  • Cheeks
  • Forehead
  • Bridge of the nose
  • Chin

It can also occur on the neck and forearms. The skin discoloration doesn’t do any physical harm, but you may feel self-conscious about the way it looks.

If you notice these symptoms of chloasma, see your doctor. Your doctor might refer you to a dermatologist, who is a doctor that specializes in treating skin disorders.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes chloasma?

What causes chloasma is not yet clear. It likely occurs when the color-making cells in the skin (melanocytes) produce too much color. People with skin of color are more prone to chloasma because they have more active melanocytes than those with light skin.

Some common chloasma triggers include:

  • Sun exposure: Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun stimulates the melanocytes. In fact, just a small amount of sun exposure can make chloasma return after fading. Sun exposure is why chloasma often is worse in summer. It also is the main reason why many people with chloasma get it again and again.
  • A change in hormones: Pregnant women often get chloasma. When chloasma appears in pregnant women or the mask of pregnancy. Birth control pills and hormone replacement medicine also can trigger chloasma.
  • Cosmetics: Skin care products that irritate the skin may worsen chloasma.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for chloasma?

It isn’t totally clear what causes chloasma. Darker skinned individuals are more at risk than fair skinned individuals. Estrogen and progesterone sensitivity are also associated with the condition. This means birth control pills, pregnancy, and hormone therapy can all trigger chloasma. Stress and thyroid disease have also been postulated to be causes of chloasma.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is chloasma diagnosed?

A visual exam of the affected area is often enough to diagnose chloasma. To rule out specific causes, your doctor might also perform some tests.

One testing technique is a Wood’s lamp examination. This is a special kind of light that’s held up to your skin and allows the doctor to check for infections and determine how many layers of skin the chloasma affects. To check for any serious skin conditions, your doctor might also perform a biopsy. This involves removing a small piece of the affected skin for testing.

How is chloasma treated?

Chloasma can fade on its own. This often happens when a trigger is causing the chloasma, such as a pregnancy or birth control pills. When the woman delivers the baby or stops taking the birth control pills, chloasma can fade.

Some people, however, have chloasma for years — or even a lifetime. If the chloasma does not go away or a woman wants to keep taking birth control pills, chloasma treatments are available. These include:

  • Hydroquinone: This medicine is a common first treatment for chloasma. It is applied to the skin and works by lightening the skin. You will find hydroquinone in medicine that comes as a cream, lotion, gel, or liquid. You can get some of these without a prescription. These products contain less hydroquinone than a product that your dermatologist can prescribe.
  • Tretinoin and corticosteroids: To enhance skin lightening, your dermatologist may prescribe a second medicine. This medicine may be tretinoin or a corticosteroid. Sometimes a medicine contains 3 medicines (hydroquinone, tretinoin, and a corticosteroid) in 1 cream. This is often called a triple cream.
  • Other topical (applied to the skin) medicines: Your dermatologist may prescribe azelaic acid or kojic acid to help lighten chloasma.
  • Procedures: If a topical medicine does not get rid of your chloasma, a procedure may succeed. Procedures for chloasma include a chemical peel (such as glycolic acid), microdermabrasion, and dermabrasion. A dermatologist should perfrom these procedures. New skin problems can occur when the person who gives the treatment does not tailor it to the patient’s skin type.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage chloasma?

These home remedies may help you reduce the risk of chloasma, include:

  • Wear sunscreen daily: One of the most common treatments for chloasma is sun protection. Since sunlight triggers chloasma, it is important to wear sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days and after swimming or sweating. Choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more, and zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to physically limit the effects of the sun’s rays on your skin. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every two hours.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat when you’re outside: As a recent study in the Journal Nature illustrates, sunscreen alone may not give you the sun protection you need. Whenever possible, seek shade and wear protective clothing in addition to applying sunscreen.
  • Choose gentle skin care product: Choose skin care products that don’t sting or burn, as products that irritate the skin may worsen chloasma.
  • Avoid waxing: Waxing may cause skin inflammation which can worsen chloasma, so it’s important to avoid waxing areas of the body affected by the condition. Ask a dermatologist about other types of hair removal that may be right for you.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: February 19, 2017 | Last Modified: March 8, 2017

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