Often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy”, melasma is a common condition that mostly affects women and results in dark patches of skin to appear on the face. There are various laser treatments available that can reduce the appearance of melasma.
The most popular treatments employed are intense pulsed light (IPL), fractional lasers, and neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers. Of these three, fractional lasers are the most beneficial for removing melanin cells from one’s skin. The Nd:YAG laser treatment is also effective, however IPL treatments are the least likely to produce results.
Fractional lasers work by separating one powerful laser beam into many smaller beams that pierce the top layer of skin deep into the dermis beneath. These small beams of light can reach deeper than most other laser treatments. As the skin is penetrated, it decreases excess pigmentation and resurfaces skin wherever the laser was aimed at. After a few treatments, patients should notice a significant decrease in melasma.
To make the fractional laser treatments more effective, patients may be asked to use melasma cream to whiten their skin. Patients will typically be told to apply lightening cream a few weeks before their first laser treatment. The greatest reduction in melasma generally appears after three to six treatments over the period of several months.
Neodymium-doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (Nd:YAG) Lasers
The Nd:YAG treatment works by lightening the dark patches by specifically aiming at melanin found in the dermis. Only the affected skin cells are eviscerated, leaving the surrounding skin cells unharmed. In order to resurface the skin, patients generally need multiple treatments over many months. Patients can speed up this process by applying skin lightening cream prior to, and after the laser treatment.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Lasers
Another possible laser treatment for melasma is the IPL laser. They are used to eliminate excess melanin cells on the surface of the skin, or epidermis. However, these lasers are not able to penetrate deep enough into the dermis. Therefore, patients with an excessive amount of epidermal pigmentation can use this option to cure their melasma. Patients affected by dermal melasma, however, will see little benefit. In some cases, IPL can actually worsen a patient’s condition if used improperly.
In many cases, laser treatments are a great way to lighten and resurface skin affected by melasma. For long-term maintenance of results from these treatments, patients need to avoid sun exposure and by wearing sufficient sun screen to protect themselves from harmful UV rays. Skin lightening creams are also helpful in maintaining and enhancing results. Though topical bleaching agents can sometimes be beneficial, using laser treatments is a more effective solution for melasma.