What Are the Best Ingredients to Treat Melasma?

What are the best ingredients to treat melasma?

Melasma is a common skin condition that leads to darkened patches of skin, usually around the cheeks, forehead, nose or chin. You may have also heard it referred to as a ‘pregnancy mask’ or even a ‘sun moustache’, due to its links to UV exposure and hormonal changes. 

Melasma causes pigmentation that’s typically brown or grey, and darker than your natural skin tone. Although the exact cause of melasma is unknown, it’s thought to be related to certain cells creating too much melanin, or pigment in the skin.

As with many conditions, the severity of melasma can change over time. It’s often more noticeable in the summer, due to increased sunlight, which means it can also calm down throughout winter. Although there’s no ‘cure’ for melasma, plenty of ingredients have been clinically proven to help you manage its appearance. 

Our favourite melasma-reducing ingredients

When formulating personalised melasma treatments, our dermatology experts carefully choose from a selection of tried-and-tested, evidence-backed ingredients, to find the most appropriate plan for each individual’s needs. Here are just some of the highly effective ingredients you might find in a custom Dermatica formula: 

Azelaic Acid

You don’t need a prescription for Azelaic acid — it’s available over the counter in many skincare products, including our 20% Azelaic Acid Cream, which is the highest concentration available. It may be prescribed, though, for a variety of skin concerns. It’s suitable for all skin types and, when it comes to managing melasma, helps lighten the appearance of excess pigment. 


Hydroquinone is a key active for the treatment of melasma. It reduces the number of pigment granules in the skin’s melanocytes (or pigment cells), helping you achieve a more even skin tone.


Tretinoin is the most potent of all retinoids — the vitamin A derivatives known for their cell-renewing, anti-ageing abilities. It’s only available by prescription, and clinically proven to lighten dark patches of melasma pigmentation, whether that’s the larger sun spots, or smaller chloasma on the cheeks and forehead.


Niacinamide is great at complementing the targeted work of other powerful actives. In our Dermatica custom formulas, it works alongside melasma-targeting ingredients to keep skin hydrated.

The alternatives

Of course, these aren’t the only treatment options for melasma. There are a number of less potent treatments you may spot on the high street, designed to reduce the pigmentation associated with the condition. Here’s our breakdown of the most popular.

Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid comes in cream form and works much like azelaic acid, reducing the appearance of pigments in the skin. While it does have some impact, it can’t match up to the potency of 20% Azelaic Acid Cream, which has been shown to be as effective as a 4% concentration of prescription hydroquinone in treating melasma.

Kojic Acid

Like ascorbic acid, kojic acid is cream-based, but it’s actually derived from fungi. It manages melasma by reducing pigmentation in your skin, resulting in fewer dark patches, giving you a more even complexion.


Retinol is the less potent, over-the-counter sibling of tretinoin. Like its prescription-strength counterpart, it increases the rate at which your cells renew themselves. This encourages the growth of skin cells containing normal pigment levels, reducing the appearance of melasma. 

Tranexamic Acid

Tranexamic acid is gaining popularity as an alternative to hydroquinone, although it’s thought to be less effective. It’s showing promise as a topical active ingredient, but doesn’t have a strong evidence base just yet. We’ll be keeping an eye out for more studies about this one! 

How else can I manage melasma?

Sun exposure can trigger melasma, so we always advise using a mineral or physical sunscreen (at least SPF 30) daily whether the sun is shining or not — in fact, that’s a tip we advise for all skin types!

Interested in a prescription melasma treatment? Start your consultation today. 

Sophie Atkinson
Originally published June 06 2022, updated July 01 2022

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