What’s the Link Between Melasma and Hormones?

In some ways, melasma — a condition that causes gray or brown patches on the face — is a mystery. Far more women than men have melasma, and experts have long believed that there is some connection between the condition and hormonal changes. Balcones Dermatology & Aesthetics in Austin, Texas, offers a range of treatments for the uneven pigmentation of melasma, regardless of the cause.

Although experts are not sure what causes melasma, some things are clear:

Melasma is common during pregnancy

When a mother-to-be has melasma, the condition is sometimes called chloasma, or the mask of pregnancy. Melasma occurs fairly frequently during pregnancy — in fact, half of all melasma cases initially develop during pregnancy.

Most pregnant women experience some hyperpigmentation of the skin, but in 10-15% of them, that hyperpigmentation develops into melasma. This association between pregnancy — when there are big hormonal changes — and melasma supports the link between melasma and hormones.

Hormones in oral contraceptives may lead to melasma

About 10-25% of women who take oral contraceptives develop melasma, so if you are taking oral birth control and have noticed changes in the pigmentation of your skin, see a dermatologist to determine if you may have melasma. Some studies have shown that the skin of people with melasma is more responsive to the hormone estrogen than the skin of people who don’t have melasma. The same is true for progesterone, another hormone common in oral contraceptives.

One of the earliest studies on melasma and oral contraceptives was conducted in 1967. In that study, about a quarter of the participants taking oral contraceptives developed melasma, leading the researchers to believe there was a link between the hormones in the oral contraceptives and the development of melasma, although they were not able to identify exactly how the two were associated.  

The connection between thyroid disorder and melasma

If you have a thyroid disorder, you are about four times more likely to develop melasma than a person without a thyroid disorder. A recent study found that there’s a strong association between hypothyroidism and melasma, and both conditions involve hormonal imbalances. Scientists are still investigating how thyroid disorder and melasma are connected.

Other considerations

Although it seems likely that hormones can play a role in melasma, other factors may also be important. For example, sun exposure and the amount of melanin in the skin are risk factors for melasma. There are people who develop melasma without experiencing hormonal changes, and in those cases, UV exposure and genetics are likely implicated.

Treatment for melasma

Melasma during pregnancy usually resolves on its own as hormonal levels return to normal and doesn’t usually require treatment. When oral contraceptives are the cause, the condition generally clears up when you stop taking the medication — but it can take months or even years to fully resolve.

In cases where you need to keep taking oral contraceptives or the melasma is due to some other cause, there are other treatments. Some of them include:

You should discuss all treatments with your dermatologist. At Balcones Dermatology & Aesthetics, we know that the appropriate treatment method depends on a number of factors, including your age, any other conditions you may have, and your skin type.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Is Psoriasis a Permanent Condition?

If you have psoriasis, which is a chronic skin condition, you may need to deal with flare-ups for the rest of your life. However, you can treat the symptoms and even prevent them from occurring. Read on to learn more.

5 Signs Your Rash is Actually Psoriasis

Worldwide, 125 million people live with flare-ups of itchy, scaly skin due to psoriasis. Learn more about the symptoms of psoriasis and why a long-term treatment plan is important.

Are Skin Tags Dangerous?

If the sudden appearance of skin tags on your eyelids, face, or groin has you worried, you’re not alone. Find out what causes skin tags and whether or not you need to have them removed.

Using a Chemical Peel to Treat Your Melasma

If the darkened skin patches of melasma affect how comfortable you feel in your skin, a chemical peel may be the solution you need. Learn more about risk factors for melasma and how a chemical peel can rejuvenate your skin.