J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022 Dec 25. doi: 10.1111/jocd.15566. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Various topical agents have been used to treat melasma; however, a large-scale evaluation among the currently available treatment is lacking.
OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy and safety of topical agents for melasma.
METHODS: The MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science, Cochrane, and Alt-Healthwatch databases were searched in November 2021. Original studies that reported pre- and post-treatment Melasma Area Severity Index (MASI)/modified Melasma Area Severity Index (mMASI) scores and/or adverse effects (AEs) were eligible for inclusion. The main outcome was the efficacy analyzed by the changes in the pre- and post-treatment with standardized mean difference (SMD) of MASI/mMASI scores; the AEs were calculated with incidence proportion by the reported percentage of skin irritations.
RESULTS: A total of 45 studies (2359 patients) and 55 studies (4539 patients) met the inclusion criteria for efficacy and AEs, respectively. Hydroquinone (HQ) monotherapy (SMD -1.3, 95% CI [-1.6 to -1.0]), HQ-containing combination therapy (-1.4, [-1.7 to -1.1]), cysteamine (-1.6, [-2.0 to -1.2]), tranexamic acid (-1.5, [-2.0 to -1.1]), azelaic acid (-1.3, [-1.7 to -1.0]), and kojic acid (-0.9, [-1.3 to -0.5]) demonstrated comparable efficacy, while zinc sulfate did not exhibit statistically significant improvement (-1.2, [-2.7 to 0.4]). HQ-containing combination therapy (50.9%) and cysteamine (42.2%) demonstrated the highest incidence of irritation, while azelaic acid (18.7%), kojic acid (5.3%), and tranexamic acid (0.8%) revealed a lower risk.
CONCLUSIONS: In this meta-analysis, non-HQ agents except zinc sulfate may be considered as an alternative to HQ-containing agents. However, treatment should be guided by patient’s tolerance, availability, and physicians’ experience.