Best Way to Get Rid of Melasma?

What's the best way to get rid of melasma?  Can melasma ever be completely cured or will melasma treatment only reduce it?

Doctor Answers 12

Understanding the causes of melasma: Hydroquinone

Understanding the causes of melasma is the most important step in treating the condition. Melasma is characterized by excessive deposition of pigment in the skin, usually the face.

The causes include:

  • Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone work on cell receptors on melanocytes to stimulate the production of melanin. Hormones can increase as a result of birth control pills, estrogen replacement, phytoestrogens, and pregnancy.
  • Sun Exposure
  • Active inflammation of the skin from skin diseases or acne

Once you control the cause, there are many options including Hydroquinone topical cream, chemical peels, IPL, lasers including Fraxel.

The primary focus of treatment is that there is no cure for melasma, but rather, only treatments. It is a lifelong process that will have to continue as long as the causes continue.


Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 61 reviews

Managing Melasma

Melasma is a condition that is managed. This overproduction of pigment is most
commonly induced by hormones (pregnancy, thyroid conditions)and exacerbated by UV exposure(sunlight, tanning beds),  medication (birth control pills) and even heat.  Understanding these as some of the various triggers for it are the most important tools you'll have in keeping it under control.  A clinical skin care regimen that incorporates a series of chemical peels or a more aggressive TCA peel, such as the OBAGI Blue Peel has produced excellent results in reducing the appearance of pigmentation as a result of melasma.  Home care that is inclusive of a lightener (i.e. hydroquinone)and sun protection(minimum SPF 30) are essential. Incorporating an antioxidant to serve as an additional layer of protection from the sun during the day and a retinol at night to aid in exfoliating dead surface skin cells will also be beneficial. Simply put, there is no cure, but definitely a condition that can be managed. 

Melasma Treatment

Melasma is typically caused by hormones which is why it tends to flare during pregnancy, resulting in the chloasma mask of pregnancy.  Sun exposure can also exacerbate melasma.  Treating melasma can be frustrating, since melasma tends to recur.  At our office we find success with a combination of laser peels and products.  A series of treatments with a mild resurfacing laser, such as the Erbium, combined with topical lightening creams and a retinol are effective at minimizing melasma.  Daily sunscreen usage is also vital. Unfortunately, melasma has no cure, and most people need to use topicals daily and repeat the laser peels regularly.  However, with the right regimen, melasma can be controlled.

Kent V. Hasen, MD
Naples Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 37 reviews

You might also like...

I like Cosmelan® for melasma, but prevention is key.

Although every patient will respond slightly differently to various treatments, I have found in-office treatment with Cosmelan® to be consistently effective at reducing the signs of melasma, followed by at-home treatments with nourishing skin creams that contain kojic acid, azelaic Acid, and Vitamin K and then a second, shorter application of Cosmelan®. Other options for treatment include Fraxel® 1550 wavelength and chemical peels. However, no matter how effectively we can restore evenness to your skin tone, none of these will prevent melasma from returning. Common contributors to melasma include hormone imbalance and sun exposure, so correcting hormone imbalances and always maintaining scrupulous sun protection are both integral to the long-term success for any melasma treatment.

Photoprotection is important

Melasma is primarily induced and exacerbated by sun exposure, and may be triggered by hormonal therapy such as oral contraceptive use or hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy, endocrinologic disorders, and dilantin therapy.  First and foremost in any melasma treatment plan daily photoprotection is essential. Many times I find that the number one cause of melasma treatment failure is inconsistent use of photoprotection. Primarily I recommend patients use good sunscreen that has broadspectrum coverage (UVA/UVB) and at least SPF 30 (I prefer Elta MD) and wearing it daily even after clinical symptoms fade. In the office I typically evalaute the depth of pigment with a Wood's lamp, which can roughly estimate if pigment is in the upper layers of skin and will be amenable to topical therapy with hydroquinone and retinoids, or if it will require a deeper treatment with a chemical peel. Laser can be used as well. As melasma has a tendency to reoccur (particularly in darker skin tones) consistent use of a retinoid and photoprotection can help prevent flares.

Samantha Fisher, MD
Stuart Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews

Melasma treatment

Melasma is a common condition that is difficult to treat.  Usually a combination of treatments, including lightening creams, chemical peels, and/or lasers are used to improve it.  The most important part of any treatment regimen is sunscreen and strict sun protection.  A board-certified Dermatologist can create the treatment plan best for you. 

Donna Bilu Martin, MD
Aventura Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

Hydroquinone programs for melasma work best

We have heard from just about every single Melasma patient in our office that they have tried and failed a Hydroquinone treatment program. About 70% of these patients are happy to see after the treatments that they have improved dramatically using a different type of HQ program.

Over the counter and standard prescription strength hydroquinone treatments vary typically between 2% and 4% with 4% being prescription strength. The difference with the Celibre Medical program is that the HQ treatments we use vary between 6% and 14% (for the masks). Using higher doses can lead to much better results and more side effects, which is why we closely monitor our patients on a monthly basis and require that they only go on the program for 3 months consecutively. Because Melasma is a condition not cured but managed, our patients are on HQ for 3 months and off for 3 months. In between they use other products for depigmentation but without the HQ active ingredient.

We are currently performing trials using using the Hoya Conbio Medlite laser with high fluence (energy) high frequency treatments, but have not begun offering this to the general public. The protocols we are using for the trial are based on research from Asia, where Melasma is very prevalent.

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

Effective Melasma treatment

Melasma is a common condition caused by overactive pigment producing cells that is often linked to pregnancy but has other causes as well inclduing acne outbreaks, hormonal treatment, sun exposure etc.

The first treatment is to make sure that you are using a complete sunblock with 50 spf or better that blocks UVA and UVB rays. Any treatment will be frought with disaster if continued sun exposure occurs. The second treatment is to eliminate the causative factors like hormone balance, pregnancy, illness, acne control, etc. Again, any treatment while the precipitating cause is not treated will have limited long term improvement.

Once the underlying causes have been corrected or diminished, treatment should include topicals like triluma (combination, retin a, hydroquinone and topical steroid) and possibly other topicals like Kojic acid. Next, intense pulsed light treatments are effective as well as q-switched lasers are also effective treatment. Additionally, TCA chemical peels can be helpful in refractory cases.

Scott Trimas, MD
Jacksonville Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

The best way to get rid of melasma is to stay out of the sun.

Melasma is a poorly understood disorder of too much melanin. In some people it is easy to treat by standard methods of photo-protection:

  • Stay out of the sun
  • Use a good sunscreen

In other people, no matter what we do it won't go away. But even in those people, avoidance of the sun's ultra violet (UV) light is beneficial.

There are numerous chemical and light based treatments for melasma, but photo-protection is the corner stone for all of them; and it's done by the patient and not by the doctor.

Robert Swanson, MD - RETIRED
Bay Area General Surgeon

Melasma

Melasma is a very stubborn skin condition caused by both the sun and female hormones. Birth control pills and sun exposure can exacerbate it significantly. Although there is no cure for melasma, prescription fading creams as well as in-office peels can help improve the discoloration.

Ava Shamban, MD
Santa Monica Dermatologic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 7 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.