Melasma is a benign skin condition that causes brown spots to form on sun-exposed areas of the skin. The condition most commonly occurs on the face, and affects women more often than men. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, genetics, certain medications, sun exposure and changes in hormones caused by birth control pills or pregnancy can all cause brown spots and melasma.
1. Use glycolic acid to treat brown spots and melasma. You can apply a spot-treatment product each night before bed, or get a glycolic peel to treat large brown spots or areas of melasma. Glycolic acid treatments may cause redness and irritation, especially when used more often than recommended. Low-strength peels are available in most pharmacies.
2. Treat brown spots with bleaching, freezing or dermabrasion. A medication called hydroquinone effectively bleaches dark spots in fair skinned people, but the treatment may cause significant redness and irritation in some cases. Freezing and dermabrasion work by destroying the top layer of the skin. These treatments may need to be repeated multiple times.
3. Undergo laser treatments to lighten areas of hyperpigmentation. Laser therapy is highly effective in treating brown spots and melasma, but it may require multiple treatments to obtain results and the procedure carries a risk of scarring.
4. Stop using hormone replacement medications and birth control pills if your doctor believes your melasma is hormonally based. You can switch to a nonhormonal form of birth control, or try a different type of oral contraceptive. Brown spots and melasma caused by pregnancy often resolve on their own after giving birth, according to the National Institutes of Health.
5. Apply Retin-A to brown spots and melasma patches. Prescription-strength Retin-A can completely remove smaller spots and may significantly lighten larger areas of hyperpigmentation. Treatment with Retin-A typically involves daily application for at least six months.
6. Try a chemical peel to treat brown spots and melasma. Chemical peels treat skin discoloration by burning off the top layer of the skin. Only a trained medical professional should apply a chemical peel. Side effects may include itching, burning, skin peeling and permanent scarring.
7. Wear sunscreen every time you leave the house to help fade existing brown spots and melasma and prevent the formation of new hyperpigmented spots. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreens containing titanium or zinc oxide.