What's the Best Way to Treat Melasma?

is there any surgery that can lighten the dark spots? what surgeries do you recommend? are skin lightening creams affective, which skin lightening cream brands do you recommend?

Doctor Answers (11)

Best topical treatment for melanin pigmentation and melasma

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I have written a book about Melasma and believe that a regimented protocol is required for proper treatment. In my own office in Los Angeles, I begin with a topical regimen using Melaquin AM, Melaquin PM, and MelaPads. This treatment protocol tackles the major contributors of melasma occurence, including but not limited to hyperstimulation of melanin production and UV exposure.


Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 54 reviews

Melasma is treatable!

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Melasma is the result of excess pigment distrubted throughout the skin. The pigment is called melanin and is made by melanocytes in the body.

To treat melamsa effectively a combination approach has to take place:

1. strict sun protection - even on cloudy days there is a UV factor! A great SPF that protects against UVA and UVB at least 30 and above.

2. Creams that have active ingridients that decrease melanin production, such as Hydroquinone or Azeleic acid. They can be applied at home.

3. Chemical exfoliation such as peels or retinoic acids that help gently remove the pigmentation off the skin.

4. Removing any skin irritation that can inflame the skin and cause further darkening in a response called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Caution: If you have ethnic skin (i.e. not blond with blue eyes!) you are at least for getting an exacerbation in the melasma with too aggressive a treatment. Make sure you see a doctor who has experience with ethnic skin!

In my experience, certain lasers can really make melasma worse in the long run. Make sure you are in great hands!

Tanya Kormeili, MD
Los Angeles Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Combination Treatment Works Best for Melasma

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Melasma, or increased color deposits to areas of the face, responds best to a combination of:

1) Fractional laser resurfacing - non-ablative, where the energy is focused under the skin to break up the pigment color.  A series of 5 or more treatments is usually required because the process takes time.  The newer lasers, like the Lux1540 by Palomar have demonstrated good results and are tolerable.  For those who mention that fractional resurfacing can make the melasma worse, I would like to mention that proper patient selection is important.  Selecting patients that have a tan or darker skin, or who will not follow sun protection measures may see a worsening of the condition.  Also, pre and post treatment with hydroquinone combination topicals helps.

2) Sun avoidance, sun protection and sunscreen.  Melasma is triggered by visible light.  Sunscreens block ultraviolet light.  Even with good sunscreen and a window, sunlight can darken melasma, even if it has been treated.

3) Hydroquinone topicals, in combination with others like a glycolic acid and a retinoid (Retin-A or similar).  Hydroquinone in concentrations up to 4% block the transfer of the pigment color from the cells that produce it to the cells that store it.  By blocking this transfer, treatment results are better and the benefits are extended.  Concentrations higher than 4% hydroquinone, especially when compounded can increase the risk of oochronosis, an untoward bluish discoloration of the skin and a known side effect of hydroquinone.

4) Maintenance therapies like various peels, microdermabrasion, topical antioxidants like Vitamin C and alternative non-hydroquinone pigment reduction products may also help, but they are likely to be less effective or best for maintenance.

These are the most effective treatments.  There are many others being marketed and these may help in combination with the above.

Todd Schlesinger, MD
Charleston Dermatologist

The best treatment for melasma is a combination of chemical peels and topical agents used at home

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The best treatment for melasma is a combination of chemical peels and topical agents used at home. Home treatments are often retin A and lightening agents like hydroquinone.

Edward Lack, MD
Chicago Dermatologist
3.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Best Treatment for Melasma?

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Hello 4423.  We actually disagree with Dr. Lupo on this one.  We have used laser treatments for Melasma and not only is the recurrence rate very high, but patients can actually get worse.  This was the most troubling issue for us.  While the Fraxel is FDA approved, we have found that most patients that underwent this treatment were unhappy.  

We use high strength hydroquinone bleaching programs (6-8%) with a 3 month on, 1 month off treatment protocol.  We have found with the two programs we use - Cosmelan MD and a proprietary compound - that we get about an 80% response rate.  Good luck.

Harold J. Kaplan, MD
Los Angeles Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

Melasma Treatment

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Melasma can be a very difficult and frustrating condition to treat.  Use of birth control pills and pregnancy are two common situations when melasma will first appear, along with sun exposure.  If possible, birth control pills should be stopped (especially if melasma if resistant to treatment), and daily sun protection and sunscreens are essential.  Hydroquinone, often referred to as a bleaching cream, is effective, and is often combined with Retin-A and a topical steroid.  Chemical peels and the Fraxel re:store DUAL laser can also be effective, but usually are added to treatment with hydroquinone.  Melasma is often treated long-term to prevent recurrences and maintain improvement.  Best of luck to you.    

There is no one best way to treat melasma

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Melasma is a clinical challenge where nature and nurture matter. Your dermatologist should tailor a skin care routine appropriate to your skin type that will help to maximize clinical benefit of whatever modality you choose. Our clinic is a melasma center of excellence in the Bay Area with most comprehensive technology for melasma, even in the setting of ethnic skin including Picosure, Spectra, GenesisPlus, Clear and Brilliant lasers as well as our proprietary LumaBright, an enhanced Melanage vitamin A chemical peel. There is no one best way to treat melasma. Much will depend on your tolerance of downtime associated with LumaBright peel vs. patience required with series of laser treatments.

William Ting, MD
Bay Area Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 8 reviews

Treating Melasma

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The Obaji Nu-Derm system, incorporating tretinoin (Retin-A) and hydroquinone, is a highly effective melasma treatment. Sun protection is also essential to keep melasma well controlled. Minimizing sun exposure and choosing a sunblock that has zinc oxide and or titanium dioxide instead of products that have chemical blocks is key. Additionally, products containing vitamin C can be helpful.

Phillip Chang, MD
Leesburg Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

I treat melasma with the Cosmion Mask, M2, Obagi NuDerm Blender and nonablative Fraxel Laser

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Melasma can be effectively treated but not cured. Concentrated vitamin C used with the Cosmion mask, daily M2 products, Obagi NuDerm Blender, a shoulder-to-shoulder hat, Laroche-Posay Antheliose sunblock SPF 60 and Fraxel Restore1550 Laser give me the best results. Long term daily skin care is necessary to mainatain long term clearing of Melasma.

Mark Taylor, MD
Salt Lake City Dermatologic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Constantly is the best way to treat.

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Melasma is an inherited, relapsing, chronic condition that is seen most often in females of child bearing age. Certain ethnic groups suffer more frequently. Hydroquinone combined with tretinoin (Triluma) is the Gold standard, but new products like Lumixyl, and Perle may hold promise. Sunscreens combined with antioxidants like vitamin C are worth a try. Light superficial peel series, Silkpeel, Fraxel Dual and other lasers work, but the recurrence rate is high, so constant therapy is essential.

Mary P. Lupo, MD
New Orleans Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 9 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.