If you’ve noticed dark, irregular patches on your nose, cheeks, forehead or upper lip that gradually developed over time, you may suffer from melasma.

Doctor and patient consulting. (bigstockphoto/BIGSTOCKPHOTO)

According to numerous research studies, melasma occurs most often in pregnant women and women who are taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy during menopause. It is also common in people who live in sun-drenched, tropical climates and occurs more often in other regions during the summer months.

No one knows the exact cause of the condition but it is often linked to the overproduction of certain hormones, such as female progesterone and estrogen, which causes an increased production of melanin when a person spends a lot of time in the sun.

The good news is that melasma doesn't cause health problems or symptoms beyond the discolored patches. But that still leaves melasma sufferers with a cosmetic concern, which is where I come in.

The condition is treatable with several options available to skin specialists. My first recommendation is to see a health care provider to determine if you have melasma. Next explore the treatment options.There are creams that can be used that contain azelaic and kojic acid or tretinoin, which have proven effective in decreasing the production of melanin.

Steroid creams are also available, and although the results vary, laser treatments are used in treating melasma as well.In addition, I offer my clients the melanage skin brightening and melanage mini peel treatments, which are very effective.

The mini peel is a virtually painless, new generation treatment that uses weak acids and other ingredients that do not burn or injure the skin. It lightens the dark patches and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. The Skin brightening treatment, also a peel, improves the dark pigmentation melasma patients experience and reduces fine lines and wrinkles as well. Both of these in-office treatments require an easy-to-follow home regiment.

But the key to achieving the best and lasting results is to follow the advice of a skin specialist and stay out of the sun as much as possible. Here’s to a melasma-free and better quality life!

Brooks is an associate professor at Howard University College of Medicine and a former attending instructor for the University Health Center at University of Maryland.