Melasma is one of those things that no one warns you about before pregnancy but unlike morning sickness and sore boobs, it can hang around long after the baby has arrived. As in, permanently. Since I had never even heard of melasma before I developed it myself, let’s start with the basics. Melasma is when dark patches (hyperpigmentation) appear on the skin, usually due to hormones or sun exposure. It’s often on the forehead, cheeks, upper lip, and nose and can appear on the body, too. And to be clear, melasma definitely can happen outside of pregnancy; it just so happens to be especially common for pregnant women because of the hormonal fluctuations happening in the body. So, if this sounds like you, then keep reading for the best treatment for melasma.

During my first pregnancy with Phoebe, I didn’t develop melasma at all. In fact, I’d never had any issues with hyperpigmentation. But during the third trimester of my second pregnancy with Henry, I remember coming inside after swimming and doing a double-take when I caught sight of myself in the mirror. A noticeable brown patch had popped up on my forehead within a span of two hours. A quick Google search told me that I, in fact, was having a melasma flare-up. A chat with my dermatologist assured me that it would most likely fade away after my postpartum hormones balanced out, but that I should be particularly vigilant about sunscreen.

Flash forward to a year later, I stopped nursing, and while the melasma faded, it never really went away. As the years went by, it didn’t bother me too much, unless I accidentally got a little too much sun and it would suddenly flare-up. Until this summer when I went to my derm for a microneedling appointment, and in a shocked voice she cried, “Camille, what happened with your melasma?!” I hadn’t fully realized how much the situation had worsened this year (most likely due to a hormonal surge when I got an IUD in the spring), but it was bad enough where she couldn’t even do my treatment for fear that the radiofrequency could worsen it.

So, I decided to get serious and kick this melasma to the curb once and for all.

I talked through my course of action with Dr. Geddes-Bruce (and paired it with many hours of internet research) to figure out my plan. Turns out, melasma is known for being notoriously difficult to treat, but I’m happy to report: I did it.

So what is the best treatment for Melasma? Read on for three of the most powerful ways to treat melasma, which ones I tried, and what actually ended up working for me.

1. Topical treatment options for melasma

One search on Sephora will show that there are a lot of options when it comes to over-the-counter hyperpigmentation treatments. Some are aimed at halting pigment production by melanocytes (the cause of melasma), while others fade discoloration by lightening skin tone. Hydroquinone is often considered the gold standard by dermatologists for treating hyperpigmentation, but it is somewhat controversial (it’s been banned in some countries, but most docs in the U.S. agree that research studies don’t show that it presents a danger.)

I invested in two products that I used daily:

Dr. Geddes-Bruce advised me to be very careful about “spot treating” with hydroquinone, since it will also get on the skin around the dark spot, too. She said that if I decided to go that route, watch for a light de-pigmented halo around the spot being treated. I never experienced this, but if I had, the next strategy would have been to apply a thin layer of product all over to evenly treat my entire face.

Over-the-counter hydroquinone products are available at concentrations of up to 2%. Anything higher than that requires a prescription. I used mine morning and night, after cleansing and before oil, so that the active ingredients could really penetrate. I also used the Brightening Facial Oil (great for pretty much all skin types, even if you’re not dealing with melasma) twice a day after the serum and before my moisturizer.

The verdict? Although I was skeptical that an OTC topical would make much difference, after a few weeks of use, I did see that the melasma patch on my forehead started to lighten—especially in photos, I could really notice a difference. That said, subtle improvement wasn’t enough for me: I wanted this bad boy gone. It was time to go for something a little more aggressive.

2. Oral treatments for melasma

I was surprised to learn about an extremely effective new-to-the-US market melasma treatment that is taken orally. Tranexamic acid has been proven to significantly improve melasma within a month, though it should be used as a short-term therapy (and some of the reports I read online said it can come back when the patient stops taking the medication.)

I was eager to try this wonder pill, but alas tranexamic acid can slightly increase the risk of blood clots, and since my IUD has the same side effect, they’re contraindicated.


3. In-Office Treatments for melasma

Many dermatologists are wary of treating melasma in-office since any type of inflammation (ie. lasers) can worsen the discoloration.  However, Dr. Geddes-Bruce filled me in on one aggressive peel that she’s found to be highly effective: the Cosmelan Mask. It’s specifically formulated to reduce the appearance of skin discoloration brought on by hormonal imbalance and photodamage (aka the sun.) But it’s not for the faint of heart since it requires significant downtime. It turned out to be the one time that I was actually thankful for being self-quarantined at home! I signed right up.

On the day of my treatment, I went to her office for a quick application of a mud-like mask that I had to wear for eight hours—and yes, I had to wear it out of the office and in my car on the way home. My children were intrigued.

That night, I washed it off in the shower, and then for the next 14 days, applied an at-home mask daily to continue encouraging cell turnover. And boy did those cells turn over. By day two, my skin looked sunburnt, and by day four, it started flaking off… which continued for the next 10 days. It was itchy and annoying to not be able to wear makeup, though I did turn a corner when Dr. Geddes-Bruce told me that I could actually be applying moisturizer liberally (which I hadn’t realized.) I started slathering on my most comforting hydrator, Milk & Honey’s Blue Tansy Balm, which felt like a comforting hug for my face and majorly reduced the irritation.

On day 15, the peeling stopped, and suddenly I was left with the evenest, glowy skin that didn’t even need makeup. My melasma was gone, people. And on top of that, my skin texture was smoother and looked all around healthier.

Dr. Geddes-Bruce reminded me that melasma is basically a chronic condition that will require a bit of maintenance to keep it at bay. My plan is to spot treat with my hydroquinone three to five days a week in the summer whenever it starts to flare up and take it down to one to two days a week in the winter months. I have zero regrets and am so thrilled with the results, but boy was it a journey—one I hope never to have to repeat which is why I’ve become more vigilant than ever with my daily sunscreen. And on days when I’m going to be in the sun, I’m never without my hat and sunglasses.


Have you guys dealt with melasma? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments! 

Oh, and don’t think I’d leave ya hanging without an after pic… note the sun hat.

This post was originally published on August 26, 2020, and has since been updated.

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Comments (14)
  1. 1
    Kelly August 26, 2020 at 7:56 am

    WOW! I have had melasma for years….and have never been pregnant! I believe the root cause of mine is going through about 3yrs with undiagnosed Hashimotos and hormones that were (and likely are still) all over the place! Being at home during the COVID19 Pandemic has actually helped because I’m getting more rest than ever. I’ve used 4% hydroquinone (Tri Luma) to treat mine, but I am SO interested in this mask you did! This was a great post, you did a fantastic job giving a realistic look at trying to get rid of melasma! About to order the oil you mentioned now! 🙂

  2. 2
    Joanna September 2, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    I developed melasma a couple years ago on my cheeks when I changed birth control pills. I decided to go off the Pill a couple months later and the melasma started fading, unless I was in the sun for an extended period of time. I’d never heard of melasma until I suddenly had it. Sunscreen, Vitamin C oil and Juice Beauty’s brightening serum also seemed to help, and helped kick an extra stubborn patch. I haven’t been on hormonal birth control since but I’ve still continued to use the brightening products just to be safe, despite it appearing that the melasma is gone. Something to keep in mind I suppose if I decide to get pregnant.

    • Camille Styles September 6, 2020 at 9:18 am

      thanks for sharing your experience Joanna, and glad your melasma is under control!! <3

  3. 3
    taylor September 3, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    i had a similar experience to joanna’s comment. i developed melasma as a reaction to my birth control pills. it was terrible and happened almost overnight after a beach day. i went to a derm spa and had a series of broadband light laser treatments. it’s much lighter now, but i’m intrigued by your mask treatment! i also use the is-clinical line of serums and those seem to be helping as well. i am much more diligent about wearing a hat and loading up on the sunscreen. it’s such a tricky skin issue to treat. thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Camille Styles September 6, 2020 at 9:17 am

      It really is so tricky… and my derm says that lasers can make it better or worse, depending on the type. Yes to HATS… I think I’m officially a hat girl for the rest of my life. 😉 Thanks for the Is-Clinical tip!

      • Ashley Taylor July 23, 2021 at 7:33 am

        Ok ladies I too have mild to moderate melasma after my daughter was born primarily on my cheeks… I have read all of the on line articles and frankly they frustrate me a little bit.. lol I have found the trick to MY Melasma!! Sun screen!!!! Yep that’s it!!! I noticed my melasma wasn’t as bad during the winter months so I would see it come out with sun… well ever since I’ve started using spf 50 on my face every day as part of my makeup and skin care regimen it’s hardly even noticeable anymore… but do t forget to pile it on … lol good luck

  4. 4
    Amy November 3, 2020 at 6:42 am

    Hi Camille! Wanted to check-in and see how your skin is doing 6 months later. Still clear and glowing? Would you still recommend it? Thanks!

  5. 5
    Shan May 31, 2021 at 8:52 am

    What is the at home mask you used after washing off the cosmelan mask?

  6. 6
    sue June 28, 2021 at 12:56 am

    Hi Camille,
    Really impressed with the mask treatment – I’ve been struggling with my melasma for past 4 years and it seems to be getting worse despite IPL, and dermatologist prescriptions. How is your skin today? Still clear?

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Stephanie May 9, 2022 at 4:18 pm

      IPL makes it worse.

  7. 7
    Sarah August 28, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    I just did the peel. I would advise it’s not typical for a doctor to tell you to use another brand of moisturiser while doing the regime that is prescribed. There can be contraindications and so on is why.

  8. 8
    Patty October 17, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    Get rid of melasma dark spots I tried Dermalmd Skin Lightening Serum to try on a dark brown melasma mark about the size of a penny on my face. The serum has a pleasant scent and is sheer and once applied sinks into the skin nicely. Makeup can be applied over the top of it with style. The brown mark has faded a lot and has almost disappeared so I am going to continue using it.

  9. 9
    Jackie November 8, 2021 at 11:45 pm

    Dermalmd Skin lightening serum truly work! I have hyper pigmentation left from acne and I’ve noticed a huge improvement. The marks have started to fade.

  10. 10
    Sara May 14, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    I just had a facial while on vacation at a realllly nice spa. The facialist advised ne ro look into the Eminence organic skin care line, particularly the “Bright Line” products for my melasma. She said hydroquinone is a known carcinogen and the Bright Line products use a hydroquinone alternative. Anyways, thought I would share bc I thought others with this issue might be interested!



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