Melasma Cream or Melasma Serum?

Melasma creams and serums are used to treat dark spots and uneven skin, otherwise known as hyperpigmentation.  Melasma creams and serums can be used on the face, chest, arms or other parts of the body. 

These skin care products to lighten skin have different types of skin Lightening ingredients including retinol, adapalene, hydroquinone, tretinoin, Vitamin C and natural ingredients.

If you have melasma on your face, it is important to use the correct melasma skincare routine every day to even your skin tone and encourage healing and clearing. 

Here we take a look at the best melasma creams and melasma serums for your skin type.

Step 1 is to know your skin type!

16 Bauman Skin Types

What Is Better for Melasma: A Melasma Cream or a Melasma Serum?

There are a variety of melasma creams and serums available, but what’s best for you depends on your Baumann Skin Type®.  Oily skin types do better with serums while dry skin types needs creams.  Sensitive skin types with melasma need soothing anti-inflammatory ingredients. Aging skin needs antiaging ingredients and ingredients to protect skin from pollution.

The easiest way to figure out which melasma ingredients to look for in creams and serums that will treat all of your skin concerns is to take the quiz and let our dermatologists guide you.

what skin types need a melasma cream

Dry skin types usually prefer an anti-melasma cream while oily skin types prefer an anti-melasma serum. The best melasma product for your skin type depends upon any skin conditions you might have, such as dehydration, inflammation, and skin aging.

Once you take the Skin Type Quiz, our software will personalize a skincare routine with the best serum or cream for melasma that suits your skin type. You can choose the best skincare brands for your budget, and we will tell you the exact skincare routine steps and when to use your melasma cream. Whether you want to save money or splurge, we will guide you with our dermatologist-recommended skincare routines.

Best treatments for melasma in dry skin

What Are the Best Melasma Creams for Dry Skin?

Melasma creams for dry skin types may have fatty acids to hydrate the skin. If they do not, you can use a barrier repair moisturizer on top of our melsama cream.

What Are the Best Melasma Serums for Oily Skin?

Serums are better for oily skin types because they are lighter.  If you have oily skin and you choose to use a melasma cream, you can skip a moisturizer.

best melasma serums for oily skin types

What Are the Best Melasma Serums for Combination Skin?

 (We don't believe in the combination skin type by the way- read more here).

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense is a good melasma treatment for skin that is oily in the T-zone. If you want a lightweight hyperpigmentation serum this one contains kojic acid, tranexamic acid, and vitamin B3 and is clinically proven to remove dark spots. Vitamin B3 is a popular skincare ingredient that can reduce dark spots on the skin and even skin tone. It also soothes skin and reduces inflammation

Kojic acid lightly exfoliates the skin and provides the same benefits as vitamin B3. Tranexamic acid is a new ingredient in topical melasma creams and serums. This new skin lightening ingredient treats hyperpigmentation and brightens the skin. Tranexamic acid is most effective as a prescription melasma pill that you take orally, but many companies are now putting it in topical skin care products.


Retinol Serum For Melasma

Retinoids are great for melasma because they exfoliate and inhibit tyrosinase to lower pigment production.

However, you must use them properly so you do not get a retinoid dermatitis which can lead to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is why Retin A can make melasma worse!

These are the retinoids used to treat melasma:

best ingredients for treating melasma

Natural Melasma Creams

Plant extracts with skin lightening, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties can be used in vegan, natural and clean creams to treat melasma

Silymarin for Melasma

Silymarin is a natural ingredient found in melasma creams.  A double-blind placebo-controlled study investigated the safety and efficacy of topical Silymarin (SM) cream in to treat melasma. The clinical and histopathology observations significantly improved in the Silymarin-treated groups. Clinically, patients showed significant pigment improvement and lesion size reduction, starting from the first week of Silymarin treatment. The treatment was well-tolerated with no observed side effects, and all patients reported being fully satisfied with the results. These findings suggest that Silymarin is a promising, safe, and effective treatment for melasma, with results indicating a dose-dependent improvement in the condition. (9)

Silymarin shows strong free radical-scavenging activity, which is several times greater than that of vitamin E. It prevents lipid peroxidation and provides significant protection against UVB-induced depletion of catalase activity. 

 Silymarin can effectively neutralize harmful biochemical reactions triggered by free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), thereby strengthening the skin’s cellular antioxidant status. This antioxidant capacity is pivotal in protecting skin cells from the oxidative stress induced by solar UV radiation, which is a known factor in skin aging, melanogenesis, and carcinogenesis.

Research has revealed that Silymarin, and specifically one of its main components, 2,3-dehydrosilybin (DHSB), possesses UVA protection properties.  Silymarin and its flavonolignans were found to inhibit the activities of collagenase and elastase, two enzymes that play a role in skin aging. Of the flavonolignans studied, DHSB was identified as the most potent.

Silymarin has been shown to inhibit l-DOPA oxidation activity of tyrosinase, the rate-limiting melanogenic enzyme. This decreases production of melanin.


China Camellia

Research has shown that the extract of China Camellia can effectively inhibit tyrosinase activity and the proliferation of melanocytes, both of which are vital for the control of pigmentation. (8) In addition, camellianin A, a component of China Camellia, is known for its potent antioxidant activity. Since oxidative stress has been linked to hyperpigmentation, the antioxidant properties of China Camellia, along with its ability to inhibit melanogenesis, are likely significant factors in its efficacy in improving pigmentation in melasma when used as a component of natural and vegan creams.

Prinsepia utilis oil

Prinsepia utilis oil may be a good natural ingredient in melasma treatments due to its ability to improve epidermal permeability barriers. Research suggests that Prinsepia utilis can stimulate the production of epidermal lipids, including ceramides, which are major components of lamellar lipids in the stratum corneum. A defective epidermal permeability barrier has been proposed to contribute to the development of melasma, so the Prinsepia utilis-induced improvement in this barrier might be an additional mechanism by which the cream of herbal mixture positively affects melasma.

Portulaca oleracea

Portulaca oleracea, often referred to as purslane, is another herbal ingredient in melasma creams. A study (8) showed that the treatment with this herb in a mixture of herbs in a cream led to a decrease in the density of inflammatory cells in the melasma lesion. This outcome may be attributable to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of portulaca oleracea. Melasma is known to be characterized by inflammatory cells infiltrating the superficial dermis and capillaries, and we know that inflammation leads to hyperpigmentation, so Portulaca oleracea's soothing abilities may help treat melasma naturally.

Sanchi (Panax Notoginseng)

Sanchi, also known as Panax notoginseng has panax notoginseng saponins (PNS) that have anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant activity. This herb has been used in an herbal cream to treat melasma . (8)

vitamin c

Vitamin C for Melamsa

Vitamin C should be used with other tyrosinase inhibitors and during a tyrosinase inhibitor holiday.  You can learn more about which Vitamin C to choose to use for melasma at this link.

Melasma Treatment Skincare Routine

Once you have a personalized skincare routine to treat melasma, you need to use it every day as prescribed. The skin constantly produces melanin, and you must be consistent with your melasma skincare regimen to get the best results. Your skin becomes accustomed to the skin lightening ingredients, and they will stop working after a few months. Regular use of your melasma skincare regimen will help clear dark spots on the skin before the skin-lightening ingredients stop working.

Use melasma cream consistently in a daily routine

Melasma Treatment Skincare Routines: Treatment Regimens and Maintenance Regimens

You need two different melasma treatment skincare routines to treat melasma. The Melasma Treatment Regimen is used for 3 months, and the Melasma Maintenance Regimen is used for one month. You should cycle between these two to keep melasma under control.

Why Do I Need to Take A Holiday From My Melasma Cream?

Melasma treatments tend to stop working after three to four months. You want to get as much out of the melasma treatment before this happens, so use your regimen consistently every day for the first four months. This is called the “treatment regimen” because treats dark spots on the face. You can learn more about the best skincare routine for melasma here.

Do I Apply My Sunscreen Before or After My Melasma Cream or Melasma Serum?

You should always apply your melasma serum or melasma cream before an SPF.

How to Make Melasma Creams And Melasma Serums Work Faster

Skin lightening creams and serums work faster to treat melasma when used properly. Understanding the causes of melasma and following tips to make it go away faster is an important part of melasma treatment.

Use an SPF every day to protect yourself from the sun with any skincare routine. This is even more important if you are undergoing melasma treatment to prevent any new dark spots from forming. Tinted sunscreens are our favorite sunscreens for melasma because they have iron oxides that help block blue light. here are some of our favorite mineral sunscreens:

16 Bauman Skin Types

Make it easy on yourself- take the quiz and we will show you which melasma cream brands are best for your skin type. You can pick and choose based on price, brand or other preferences. We don't care what brand you buy- as long as you buy something that is going to work for YOU!

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Best References and Scientific Publications on Melasma Creams:

  1. Baumann L. Depigmenting Ingredients in Ch. 41 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Chapters 32-45.  Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3. Grimes, P. E. (2004). A microsponge formulation of hydroquinone 4% and retinol 0.15% in the treatment of melasma and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. Cutis74(6), 362-368.
  4. Ortonne, J. P. (2006). Retinoid therapy of pigmentary disorders. Dermatologic therapy19(5), 280-288.
  5. Torok, H. M. (2006). A comprehensive review of the long-term and short-term treatment of melasma with a triple combination cream. American journal of clinical dermatology7, 223-230.
  6. Baliña, L. M., & Graupe, K. (1991). The treatment of melasma 20% azelaic acid versus 4% hydroquinone cream. International journal of dermatology30(12), 893-895.
  7. Altaei, T. (2012). The treatment of melasma by silymarin cream. BMC dermatology12(1), 1-6.
  8. Zhang, Q., Tu, Y., Gu, H., Sun, D., Wu, W., Man, M. Q., ... & He, L. (2019). A cream of herbal mixture to improve melasma. Journal of cosmetic dermatology18(6), 1721-1728.
  9. McKesey, J., Tovar-Garza, A., & Pandya, A. G. (2020). Melasma treatment: an evidence-based review. American journal of clinical dermatology21, 173-225.

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