Melasma, which is often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy,” is a common disorder that causes dark patches of skin to appear on the face. There are several laser treatments used to reduce the appearance of melasma. The most commonly used treatments are fractional lasers, intense pulsed light (IPL), and neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers. Of these treatment options, fractional lasers are the most effective in removing melanin cells from the skin. The Nd:YAG laser is also effective, while IPL treatments do not always produce significant results.
The powerful fractional lasers work by breaking one laser beam into small fractions that penetrate the top layer of skin deep into the underlying dermis. The small beams of light are able to penetrate much deeper than many other laser treatments. As the laser penetrates the skin, it reduces excess pigmentation and resurfaces the skin. After several treatments, patients should see a significant improvement in their melasma.
To increase the effectiveness of fractional laser treatments, patients might be told to use melasma cream to lighten their skin. Patients will usually be instructed to use a lightening cream a few weeks prior to their first laser treatment for melasma. To see a significant improvement, most people need between three and six treatments over the course of several months.
Nd:YAG laser treatment for melasma lightens the dark patches by specifically targeting melanin located in the dermis. Affected skin cells are destroyed, while the surrounding skin is left unharmed. To resurface the skin, patients typically need several treatments over a time span of a few months. Patients can also enhance their results by using a skin lightening cream before and after their laser treatments.
Intense pulsed light is another laser treatment for melasma used to destroy excess melanin cells on the epidermis, or the surface of the skin. These lasers cannot penetrate deep into the dermis. In patients with excess epidermal pigmentation, this option is an effective laser treatment for melasma. Patients suffering from dermal melasma, however, will not see dramatic results. In fact, IPL can worsen a person’s condition if used incorrectly.
In many cases, laser treatments are an effective way to lighten and resurface the skin. To maintain the results from these treatments, patients must avoid long periods of sun exposure and protect their skin with sunscreen. Skin lightening creams might also be used to enhance or maintain results. While topical bleaching agents are sometimes helpful on their own, using laser treatment for melasma is often the most effective method.