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Melasma is a very common patchy brown, tan, or blue-gray facial skin discoloration, usually seen in women in the reproductive years. It typically appears on the upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead, and chin of women 20-50 years of age. Although possible, it is uncommon in males. Most of those with melasma are women. It is thought to be primarily related to external sun exposure, internal hormones like birth control pills, and internal hormonal changes as seen in pregnancy. Most people with melasma have a history of daily or intermittent sun exposure, although heat is also suspected to be an underlying factor. Melasma is most common among pregnant women, especially those of Latin and Asian descents. People with olive or darker skin, (Italian, Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern) individuals, have higher incidences of melasma.
Prevention is primarily aimed at facial sun protection and sun avoidance.
The exact cause of remains unknown. It is believed that the dark patches could be triggered by several factors, including pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, family history of melasma, race, antiseizure medications, and other medications that make the skin more prone to pigmentation after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Uncontrolled sunlight exposure is considered the leading cause of melasma, especially in individuals with a genetic predisposition to this condition. Clinical studies have shown that individuals typically develop melasma in the summer months, when the sun is most intense. In the winter, the hyperpigmentation in melasma tends to be less visible or lighter.
People with a genetic predisposition or known family history of melasma are at an increased risk of developing melasma. Important prevention methods for these individuals include sun avoidance and application of extra sunblock to avoid stimulating pigment production.