Melasma

  • Medical Author: Joel Schlessinger, MD
  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How does hydroquinone work in melasma?

Researchers believe that the hydroxyphenolic chemical (HQ) blocks a step in a specific enzymatic pathway that involves tyrosinase. Tyrosinase is the enzyme that converts dopamine to melanin. Melanin gives skin its color.

Are there non-hydroquinone alternative treatments for melasma?

Azelaic acid is a non-hydroquinone cream that can be used to treat melasma. Studies have reported that 15%-20% azelaic acid was very effective and safe in melasma, although the overall results are significantly less impressive than 4% hydroquinone. There are no major complications reported with azelaic acid. Possible minor side effects include itching (pruritus), redness (erythema), scaling (dry patches), and a temporary burning sensation that tends to improve after 14-30 days of use.

Tretinoin cream (Retin A, Renova, Retin A Micro) is a non-hydroquinone cream used to treat melasma. Most often, tretinoin is used in combination with other creams like azelaic acid or hydroquinone. Mild localized side effects are fairly common and include peeling, dry skin, and irritation. Overall, melasma may respond slower to treatment with tretinoin alone than with hydroquinone.

Other retinoid creams include tazaratone and adapelene. These are prescription creams used much like tretinoin (Retin A).

What is Tri-Luma?

Tri-Luma is a combination prescription cream containing fluocinolone acetonide 0.01%, hydroquinone 4%, and tretinoin 0.05%. It is used to treat melasma and other skin discoloration. Results may be seen in usually about six to eight weeks from starting treatment. Tri-Luma should not be used for prolonged periods exceeding eight weeks without your doctor's recommendation. It should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women unless specifically instructed by your physician. According to the label, it must also be refrigerated.

Other combination creams include the Kligman formula which is a triple cream including a retinoid, a hydroquinone, and a topical steroid (for example, fluocinolone acetonide 0.01%, hydroquinone 8%, and tretinoin 0.1%). These triple combination creams may be compounded in different strengths by specialty pharmacists according to a physician's prescription. Triple creams are highly effective for melasma.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/23/2015

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