Background: Melasma is an acquired disorder of hyperpigmentation occurring on the face and predominantly affecting women of childbearing age. It is a chronic, often relapsing condition with a negative impact on quality of life. Current treatments for melasma are unsatisfactory. Objective: The aim of this article was to conduct an evidence-based review of interventions available for the treatment of melasma. Methods: A systematic literature search was performed using PubMed and the keywords 'melasma' or 'chloasma' in the title. The search was further refined by using a filter for 'controlled clinical trials' and 'randomized controlled trial'. The included studies were used to develop recommendations for treatment. Results: The electronic search yielded a total of 80 citations. Forty studies were included in this review, which had a total of 2,912 participants. Three different therapeutic modalities were investigated - topical agents, chemical peels, and laser and light therapies. Topical depigmenting agents were found to be the most effective in treating moderate-to-severe melasma, with combination therapies, such as triple-combination therapy (hydroquinone, tretinoin, and fluocinolone acetonide), yielding the best results. Chemical peels as well as laser and light therapies were found to have moderate benefit but more studies are needed to determine their efficacy and long-term safety. Adverse events associated with treatment were mild and short-lasting and included skin irritation, dryness, burning, and erythema. The data could not be statistically pooled because of the heterogeneity of treatments and lack of consistency across study designs. Conclusions: Topical combination therapies were found to be more effective than monotherapy. Triple combination therapy was found to be the most effective, but approximately 40 % of patients develop erythema and peeling. Chemical peels and laser and light therapies produced mixed results, with increased risk of irritation and subsequent hyperpigmentation, particularly in darker-skinned individuals. Hence, current treatments available for melasma remain unsatisfactory. Many of the studies lacked long-term follow-up. Limitations of current literature include the heterogeneity of study designs, small sample sizes, and poor follow-up rates. Additional evidence for the effects and role of sunscreens is needed. Categorization or stratification of demographic data should also be included in future studies, such as age, melasma type, and duration of melasma prior to initiation of treatment. Patient's perception of improvement versus investigator's assessment of improvement should also be included in future studies and standardized methods of study design and assessment of outcomes are needed to form definitive conclusions on the efficacy of different treatment modalities.
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