Melasma: an Up-to-Date Comprehensive Review

Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2017 Sep;7(3):305-318. doi: 10.1007/s13555-017-0194-1. Epub 2017 Jul 19.


Melasma is a common acquired condition of symmetric hyperpigmentation, typically occurring on the face, with higher prevalence in females and darker skin types. Multiple etiologies, including light exposure, hormonal influences, and family history, have been implicated in the pathogenesis of this disorder. Overall prevalence ranges widely at 1-50%, since values are typically calculated within a specific ethnic population within a geographic region. Histologically, melasma can display increased epidermal and/or dermal pigmentation, enlarged melanocytes, increased melanosomes, solar elastosis, dermal blood vessels, and, occasionally, perivascular lymphohistiocytic infiltrates. Various topical, oral, and procedural therapies have been successfully used to treat melasma. Traditional topical therapies including hydroquinone, tretinoin, corticosteroids, and triple combination creams; however, other synthetic and natural topical compounds have also shown varying efficacies. Promising oral therapies for melasma include tranexamic acid, Polypodium leucotomos, and glutathione. Procedures, including chemical peels, microneedling, radiofrequency, and lasers, are also often used as primary or adjunctive treatments for melasma. Notably, combination therapies within or across treatment modalities generally result in better efficacies than monotherapies. This review serves as a comprehensive update on the current understanding of the epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical and histologic features of melasma, as well as treatments for this common, yet therapeutically challenging, condition.

Keywords: Hyperpigmentation; Melasma; Pigmentary disorders; Skin of color.

Publication types

  • Review