Melasma: A critical analysis of clinical trials investigating treatment modalities published in the past 10 years

J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020 Jun;19(6):1284-1289. doi: 10.1111/jocd.13182. Epub 2019 Oct 11.


Background: Melasma is an acquired disorder of facial pigmentation which is a treatment challenge.

Aims: The aim of this article is to critically appraise the clinical trial evidence for different treatment modalities for melasma, published in peer-reviewed journals in the past 10 years.

Patients/methods: The literature review was conducted using PubMed and MEDLINE. The search was performed in July 2019, and search parameters were limited to all English language articles published in the past 10 years only.

Results: Eighty-nine clinical trials were found. Four clinical trials investigated topical hydroquinone, supporting its safety and efficacy as first-line treatment. Twelve studies showed tranexamic acid as very promising. Nineteen studies assessed various novel oral, injectable, and topical treatments and highlight some new potential future treatments. Forty-two studies investigated laser and light treatment in melasma: LFQS laser is still one of the best options, especially in darker skin types. However, the picosecond laser has shown excellent results. Finally, 11 studies looked at peels. Overall, peels have not been shown to be superior to the use of topical therapy alone.

Conclusion: Topical therapy with a HQ and retinoid-based product should be first line for a minimum of 3 months with the addition of oral tranexamic acid at 250 mg BD if no contraindication. Second-line treatment with lasers includes the LFQS Nd:YAG, picosecond laser, and the pulsed dye laser in lighter skin types. Third-line therapy would be the addition of chemical peels to the above treatments, with GA or TCA peels having the most evidence for effectiveness.

Keywords: hydroquinone; melasma; pigmentation; tranexamic acid; tretinoin.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Administration, Oral
  • Chemexfoliation / adverse effects
  • Chemexfoliation / methods*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy / adverse effects
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Hydroquinones / administration & dosage
  • Hydroquinones / adverse effects
  • Keratolytic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Keratolytic Agents / adverse effects
  • Lasers, Solid-State / adverse effects
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / adverse effects
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / instrumentation
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / methods*
  • Melanosis / therapy*
  • Retinoids / administration & dosage
  • Skin Lightening Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Skin Lightening Preparations / adverse effects
  • Tranexamic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Tranexamic Acid / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Hydroquinones
  • Keratolytic Agents
  • Retinoids
  • Skin Lightening Preparations
  • Tranexamic Acid
  • hydroquinone