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June 1994

Topical Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin) for Melasma in Black Patients: A Vehicle-Controlled Clinical Trial

Author Affiliations

From the Dermatopharmacology Unit, Department of Dermatology, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor.

Arch Dermatol. 1994;130(6):727-733. doi:10.1001/archderm.1994.01690060057005

Background and Design:  Melasma is an acquired, masklike, facial hyperpigmentation. The pathogenesis and treatment of melasma in black (African-American) patients is poorly understood. We investigated the efficacy of topical 0.1% all-trans-retinoic acid (tretinoin) in the treatment of melasma in black patients. Twenty-eight of 30 black patients with melasma completed a 10-month, randomized, vehicle-controlled clinical trial in which they applied either 0.1% tretinoin or vehicle cream daily to the entire face. They were evaluated clinically (using our Melasma Area and Severity Index), colorimetrically, and histologically.

Results:  After 40 weeks, there was a 32% improvement in the Melasma Area and Severity Index score in the tretinoin treatment group compared with a 10% improvement in the vehicle group. Colorimetric measurements showed lightening of melasma after 40 weeks of tretinoin treatment vs vehicle. Lightening of melasma, as determined clinically, correlated well with colorimetric measurements. Histologic examination of involved skin revealed a significant decrease in epidermal pigmentation in the tretinoin group compared with the vehicle group. Side effects were limited to a mild ''retinoid dermatitis'' occurring in 67% of tretinoin-treated patients. Among the patients in this study in comparison with comparably recruited white patients, melasma was reported to have begun at a later age and was more likely to be in a malar distribution.Conclusions: This controlled study demonstrates that topical 0.1% tretinoin lightens melasma in black patients, with only mild side effects.(Arch Dermatol. 1994;130:727-733)

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