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Melasma are patches of dark skin that appear on areas of the face that are exposed to the sun.

Alternative Names:

Chloasma; Mask of pregnancy; Pregnancy mask


Melasma is a common skin disorder. It most often appears in young women with brownish skin tone, but it can affect anyone.

Melasma is often associated with the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is common in:

  • Pregnant women
  • Women taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
  • Women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause.

Being in the sun makes melasma more likely to develop. The problem is more common in tropical climates.


The only symptom of melasma is a change in skin color. However, this color change can cause distress about your appearance.

The skin color changes are most often an even brown color. They usually appear on the cheeks, forehead, nose, or upper lip. Dark patches are usually symmetrical.

Exams and Tests:

Your health care provider will look at your skin to diagnose the problem. A closer exam using a device called a Wood's lamp (which uses ultraviolet light) may help guide your treatment.


Treatments may include:

  • Creams that contain certain substances to improve the appearance of melasma
  • Chemical peels or topical steroid creams
  • Laser treatments to remove the dark pigment if melasma is severe
  • Stopping hormone medicines that may be causing the problem
Outlook (Prognosis):

Melasma often fades over several months after you stop taking hormone medicines or your pregnancy ends. The problem may come back in future pregnancies or if you use these medicines again. It may also come back from sun exposure.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call your health care provider if you have darkening of your face that does not go away.


Using sunscreen every day helps prevent melasma. Sunscreen use also helps prevent skin cancer and wrinkles.


Chang MW. Disorders of hyperpigmentation. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 67.

Disturbances of pigmentation. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 36.

Habif TP. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 19.

Sood A, Tomecki KJ. Pigmentary disorders. In: Carey WD, ed. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine 2010. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010.

Review Date: 11/12/2014
Reviewed By: Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, dermatologist in private practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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