There are many options available for melasma treatment, but no particular solution is guaranteed to completely resolve this skin discoloration. Chemical peels are one category of non-invasive cosmetic treatment that many patients try in their quest to regain even skin tone. Some individuals have excellent results while others still experience abnormal pigmentation after repeat sessions. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of melasma can help you make the best decision about whether to try a chemical peel and which type might work best.

What Is Melasma?

This skin condition is caused by the production of excess melanin in the skin on the face. The result is blotchy patches of darker skin that tend to get worse with exposure to sunlight. This discoloration often occurs on the cheeks, but can appear anywhere on the face. Melasma is called the “pregnancy mask” because it sometimes affects women during pregnancy due to changes in hormones that stimulate the melanocytes in the skin to go into overdrive. Hormonal birth control can cause the same problem. It may resolve when hormone levels return to normal, or the symptoms may persist. In most cases, the underlying trigger for melasma is not identified. Some people simply seem genetically predisposed to develop this skin discoloration. Sun exposure is the biggest controllable risk factor.

How Do Chemical Peels Work as a Melasma Treatment?

In some patients, melanin tends to build up in the very upper layer of the skin (the epidermis). As it accumulates, the brown patches get darker and more pronounced. A chemical peel effectively removes at least a portion of this upper layer of dead skin, taking the excess pigment along with it. The skin is prompted to refresh itself with new cells – hopefully without as much melanin.

A light chemical peel such as lactic acid or glycolic acid may be enough to lighten epidermal melasma and make it less noticeable. If the pigment is deeper in the skin and reaches into the dermis, a mid-level peel such as a moderately strong TCA peel may be needed to have any effect. Even then, the level of improvement may be very limited. A skin exam using a special light called a Woods lamp is used to determine the depth of the pigmentation. That’s one reason it’s very important to seek professional medical treatment rather than just trying at-home chemical peels.

Melasma Treatment Makes Skin Extra Sensitive

Pretreatment with hydroquionone followed by an ongoing regimen of skin lightening cream is commonly used in conjunction with chemical peels to enhance success. A cosmetic dermatologist may also offer additional treatments such as laser resurfacing for resistant cases of melasma. Chemical peels, laser therapy and lightening agents all make the skin more sensitive than ever to pigmentation pr