woman smiling

What Is Melasma?

Read our guide on everything you need to know about melasma and how to treat melasma on face


Melasma, also called chloasma, is a condition that causes dark, discoloured patches, that are usually black or green, (the name comes from melas, the Greek word for black, or cholas, from the word green-ish), flat or freckle-like spots on the skin.
It is a common condition, especially in pregnancy. While both women and men can develop melasma it is far more common in women, and it usually starts between the ages of 20 and 40.
Melasma is harmless - it is not painful, itchy, or uncomfortable, and it will not develop into skin cancer - but it can make people feel self-conscious. It can be treated, or at least reduced and can sometimes clear up by itself.
Are you wondering, what is melasma? Read on to discover more about melasma causes, melasma on face and how to remove melasma.

What is melasma?

Melasma is a skin condition that causes patches of discolouration - usually brown or blue-grey patches or freckle-like spots. It is most typical to find melasma on face, although it can also develop on other areas of the skin that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the neck and forearms.

Melasma remains a bit of a mystery to dermatologists,  but it is thought to be caused by pigment-producing cells in the skin (melanocytes) producing too much pigment (melanin). It is this overproduction of the cells that defines the colour of your skin. 

Melasma can look like age or sun spots, but melasma patches are usually larger.

young woman in the sun

What is melasma on face?

Melasma on face is symmetrical, with matching marks on both sides of the face. 

Melasma on face usually appears on:
- cheeks
- upper lip 
- forehead
- nose

Melasma on face is triggered by exposure to UV light, from the sun or the use of sun-beds, while skin care products that irritate your skin can make melasma on face worse.

A good skincare routine can help to reduce the appearance of melasma on face. NIVEA Cellular Luminous 630 Day Cream SPF 50, acts on existing pigmentation to lighten dark spots and reduce their size, while balancing new melanin production to prevent the appearance of new spots. 

Applying SPF is your best defence against melasma on face. Sunscreen  protects your delicate facial skin against UVA and UVB induced skin damage, like melasma, as well as premature skin ageing.

Melasma causes

  • Melasma usually becomes more noticeable in the summer and improves during the winter months.
  • While experts are not entirely sure what causes melasma, what is known is that people with darker-skinned are more likely to develop melasma than those with fair skin.
  • Oestrogen and progesterone sensitivity are also known to trigger it.
  • This means if you take birth control pills, are pregnant or are having hormone therapy, your chances of developing melasma are higher. 
Other factors include:


- Family history: about 33% to 50% of people with melasma have reported that someone else in the family has it. The majority of identical twins both have melasma.

- Stress and thyroid disease are also thought to be causes of melasma

- Sun exposure: ultraviolet rays affect the cells that control pigment (melanocytes).

- Rarely, other medical problems that affect hormones (such as thyroid problems) may cause melasma, as well as some other medications, such as antiepileptics

- LED Screens: melasma may be caused by the LED lights from television, laptop, phone and tablet screens

Melasma in pregnancy

Hormonal changes, particularly the excess of oestrogen and progesterone, in pregnancy can trigger melasma hence its nickname, the ‘mask of pregnancy’). Dark patches, or splotches, may appear on your forehead, cheeks, chin, or around your mouth and may get darker the further along you are in your pregnancy. You may also notice these patches get darker in sunlight.

brunette women smiling




Dark patches you develop during pregnancy usually fade within a few months after giving birth, when your hormone levels return to normal and your body stops producing so much skin pigment, or melanin.


The condition is hugely common in pregnant women, about 50% of pregnant women are affected. 

Melasma in pregnancy is harmless, but you can reduce its appearance by using SPF daily, such as NIVEA SUN UV Face Specialist Dark Spot Control Fluid SPF50, and perhaps switching up your skincare routine to include ingredients that reduce the appearance of melasma on face, such as our NIVEA Cellular Luminous630 bundle.

Epidermal melasma


Melasma is divided into three types: 

 - Epidermal melasma
 - Dermal melasma
 - Mixed melasma

Epidermal melasma means the pigment (melanin) is in the more superficial layers of the skin called the epidermis. In dermal melasma, there is increased skin pigment in the deeper layer of the skin (the dermis). Mixed melasma is a combination of epidermal and dermal melasma and is the most common.  


Epidermal melasma is defined by:

 - border, well-defined pigments
 - dark brown patches
 - generally responds better to treatment 
 - appears obvious under black light


Melasma treatment / remedies

There is no cure for melasma but there are melasma treatments that can help lessen its appearance.  

It is entirely possible for melasma to disappear without treatment, particularly if the melasma is triggered by pregnancy or hormonal drugs. 
Melasma can be slow to respond to treatment and, even if it is treated, melasma often returns when treatment is stopped, especially if the affected area is exposed to the sun. Most cases of melasma will fade away with time, especially with good protection from sunlight and other sources of light - and there are ways to help remove melasma, or minimise it, for the long term.

woman in blue bikini
How to minimise melasma
Reduce your sun exposure and wear sunscreen daily. Skin affected by melasma darkens more than the surrounding skin when exposed to light, so avoiding the sun, particularly during peak hours, and sun-protection are important. To help prevent melasma, be sure to wear a daily face cream with an SPF, to protect your skin from damaging UV rays. Try our NIVEA Refreshing 24H Moisture Day Cream SPF15 to combat the appearance of melasma on face.
young women in bikinis
How to minimise melasma
Wear protective clothing when you’re out in the sun including a wide-brimmed hat or cap to cover your face.
How to minimise melasma
Anti-dark spot treatment such as our Cellular LUMINOUS630 Anti Dark Spot range - which targets the root cause of the three major types of dark spots - sun exposure, ageing and hormonal changes such as during pregnancy or menopause. You can see visible results in four weeks. Available in our NIVEA Anti-Dark Spot Face Treatment Serum, Anti-Dark Spot Day Moisturiser SPF50 and Anti-Dark Spot Eye Treatment Cream.
Are you interested what the newest patented LUMINOUS630® is all about? Do you want to find out even more about the range and what wonder weapons it contains? We have got you covered! 

How is it diagnosed?

A dermatologist or GP can usually offer a clinical diagnosis based on an examination with a Wood lamp and dermatoscope. Sometimes a skin biopsy may be taken. 

It's always important to get any changes on your skin checked by a GP if you are concerned.