Melasma: What is it and how can it be managed?

It's one of the lesser-known skincare conditions, despite so many people having it

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Rex)

It's one of the lesser-known skincare conditions, despite so many people having it

Despite its prevelance, a lot of people have never heard of skin pigmentation condition melasma.

Celebrities like Jenna Dewan and Drew Barrymore have opened up about struggling with the skin condition, so what exactly is it? We spoke to the experts to get the low down.

What is melasma, and what causes it?

It's estimated that 90% of people who get melasma are women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

'Melasma is a common disorder of facial pigmentation, which can be recognised by the appearance of blotchy dark brown or grey patches on the face,' explains consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk.

'They tend to occur on the forehead, cheeks, upper lip and nose and are usually symmetrical. In some cases, the skin may also be a little bit red at the onset.

'It typically appears for the first time between the ages of 20 and 40 and is more likely to affect those with darker skin types or tanned skin. In most cases, it's thought to be triggered by pregnancy, hormonal medication like the contraceptive pill and medical conditions that cause altered hormone levels.'

When it comes to pinpointing an exact cause however, things are a bit more complicated.

'The exact process isn’t fully understood; however we know that the increase in facial pigmentation seen in melasma is due to excess production of melanin by melanocytes (the pigment-generating cells in our skin),' says Justine.

'Exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight deepens the pigmentation by activating the melanocytes to produce more melanin.


'It is important to remember that there are a number of skin disorders that affect facial pigmentation. Treatment for these other disorders will be different,' the doctor adds.

'A consultant dermatologist is the only doctor expert in the diagnosis and treatment of skin disease. Please make sure you are receiving advice from someone qualified to give it.'

Melasma in pregnancy

According to the British Association of Dermatologists, 50% of women may be affected during pregnancy.

'Because of the association with hormones, especially during pregnancy, it is sometimes referred to as the "mask of pregnancy" or "pregnancy veil",' explains Justine.

What melasma treatments are available?

A quality hyperpigmentation treatment will be a God send for melasma sufferers.

Dr Dennis Gross, internationally-renowned dermatologist and dermatological surgeon, says that the best course of treatment is a combination of in-office treatments with an optimised skincare regimen.

'We commonly treat brown spots or patches with chemical peels which exfoliate the outermost layer of skin, removing the dark spots, light therapy and lasers (the energy blasts away pigment),' he says. 'At home, I recommend the Alpha Beta peel pads, from £16, Space NK.

'They have five alpha and beta-hydroxy acids, which improve skin's texture, firmness, vibrancy and radiance in addition to reducing dark spots, and also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, pores, scars, acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation.

'You should also be using products with vitamin C, which prevents the production of melanin. At night, I recommend Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum, £85, Space NK. It boasts a trifecta of retinol, which promotes melanin’s disintegration, ferulic acid and niacinamide to get a more even complexion while diminishing the appearance of wrinkles.

Finally, the doctor orders are to never skip out on your best sun cream, a daily essential with any kind of pigmentation.

'It is imperative to wear SPF – sun is the number one culprit when it comes to hyperpigmentation,' he explains.

'Your body produces melanin to protect you from the sun – an over production shows up as brown spots and hyperpigmentation.'

Lucy Abbersteen
Beauty Contributor

Lucy is a freelance beauty editor and contributor at Marie Claire, and has written for titles including Glamour, Refinery29, Popsugar, woman&home and more. She was previously Marie Claire’s junior beauty editor. During her career, she’s covered everything from backstage beauty at fashion week to interviews with famous faces like Drag Race royalty and Little Mix. As for her beauty ethos, she’s a big advocate for not having to spend a fortune on beauty products to get good results, and when she’s not got beauty on the brain you’ll find her reading or hanging out with dogs.