KANSAS CITY – The terms “melasma” and “melanoma” sound similar and are both words you might hear in the doctor’s office or a dermatologist; however, they mean very different things.
“Melanoma” is a type of skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes, the skin’s pigment-producing cells. It can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly shows up on skin that receives the most sun exposure. It may look like a changing mole or a new pigmented growth on the skin.
“Melasma” also involves the skin but is not cancerous. Patients with melasma, who come to Premier Plastic Surgery of Kansas City (PPSKS), typically present with brown to brown-gray patches on the face. Common sites include the cheeks, chin, forehead and the bridge of the nose. Women have more cases of melasma than men, who only make up 10% of all cases.
“We don’t know what causes melasma,” says Dr. Federico Gonzalez, a board-certified plastic surgeon with Premier Plastic Surgery. “Researchers think it’s just an increase in the production of cells which release the pigment called melanin, darkening the skin.”
“Melasma is a universal condition seen in many cultures”, says Dr. Gonzalez. Asian, Hispanic, Latin, Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean and those of North African descent tend to develop markings of melasma more often than other ethnicities. Melasma also runs in families. Pregnancy is a common trigger. Other hormonal disturbances in the body may rile up pigment-producing cells: birth control pills, patch contraceptives and hormone replacement medications. Sun exposure, cosmetics and anti-seizure medicines are also thought to be linked to the development of melasma.
While melasma is a cosmetic concern, melanoma is a skin cancer that needs to be treated immediately. If left untreated, a melanoma may become life-threatening since it is aggressive and can spread rapidly.
“Regular skin screening is important,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “Normal moles are tan, black or brown and have distinctive borders. They are oval or round and should be no more than a quarter inch across.”
If a mole is large, bleeding, itchy, or unusual in shape, texture or growth it should be checked by a doctor. Excision of an unusual mole is a simple and potentially life-saving procedure.
Non-cancerous melasma is treated with skin-rejuvenating:
- Makeup application
- Skin care products and sunscreen
- Hydroquinone, tretinoin or corticosteroid gel
- Chemical peels with glycolic acid
- Laser Resurfacing
If you would like to consult with Dr. Gonzalez, ask about laser resurfacing, or speak with a professional in the Premier Skin Care Center, call (913) 782-0707 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.