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Health Information Center


  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:





Melasma is a condition that causes brown patches on the skin. They usually appear on the face, neck, and forearms.

Melasma is common during pregnancy. It is not a harmful condition.

Common Sites on the Face for Melasma.

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Melasma happens when a skin pigment called melanin increases in the body. It is not known why this happens.

Some things that may play a role are:

  • Hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy
  • Environmental exposure, such as UV light
  • Genetics

Risk Factors

Melasma is more common in women during their reproductive years.

Other things that may raise the risk of melasma are:

  • Pregnancy
  • Taking birth control pills
  • A family history of melasma
  • Having a darker skin tone
  • Getting too much sun exposure
  • Using products that irritate the skin, such as cosmetics
  • Taking certain medicines, such as antiseizure drugs or hormone therapy


Dark patches of skin are the main symptom. They can appear on the face, neck, and forearms.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A skin exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.


Melasma may go away on its own. If it does not go away, it can be treated if it is unsightly.

Options may include:

  • Changing or stopping medicines that contain hormones, such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy
  • Applying medicine to lighten the patches
  • Using procedures such as chemical peels, microdermabrasian, or laser therapy to lighten the patches

UV light exposure should also be limited. Artificial tanning machines should be avoided. Using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 can also help lower the risk of the patches getting darker and new patches from forming.


The risk of melasma may be lowered by:

  • Limiting UV light exposure
  • Avoiding artificial tanning machines
  • Applying sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30




  • Kwon, S.-H., Na, J.-I., et al. Melasma: Updates and perspectives. Experimental Dermatology, 2019; 28(6): 704-708.
  • Melasma. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/m---p/melasma.
  • Melasma. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/condition/melasma.
  • Melasma. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aocd.org/page/Melasma.
  • Melasma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/melasma.


  • Elizabeth Margaret Prusak, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.