BACKGROUND: Hyperpigmentation disorders are commonly encountered in dermatology clinics. Botanical and natural ingredients have gained popularity as alternative depigmenting products. OBJECTIVE: We sought to review clinical studies evaluating the use of different natural products in treating hyperpigmentation so clinicians are better equipped to educate their patients. Specific ingredients reviewed include azelaic acid, aloesin, mulberry, licorice extracts, lignin peroxidase, kojic acid, niacinamide, ellagic acid, arbutin, green tea, turmeric, soy, and ascorbic acid. METHODS: Systematic searches of PubMed and SCOPUS databases were performed in March 2016 using the various ingredient names, "melasma"and "hyperpigmentation." Two reviewers independently screened titles, leading to the selection of 30 clinical studies. RESULTS: Review of the literature revealed few clinical trials that evaluated the treatment of hyperpigmentation with natural ingredients. Despite the limited evidence-based research, several natural ingredients did show efficacy as depigmenting agents, including azelaic acid, soy, lignin peroxidase, ascorbic acid iontophoresis, arbutin, ellagic acid, licorice extracts, niacinamide, and mulberry. CONCLUSION: The aforementioned ingredients show promise as natural treatments for patients with hyperpigmentation disorders. These agents might also provide clinicians and researchers with a way to further characterize the pathogenesis of dyschromia. However, the paucity of clinical studies is certainly a limitation. Additionally, many of the in-vivo studies are limited by the short length of the trials, and questions remain about the long-term efficacy and safety of the ingredients used in these studies. Lastly, we suggest a standardized objective scoring system be implemented in any further comparative studies.
Keywords: hyperpigmentation; melasma; natural ingredients.