When searching for skin-lightening solutions for common concerns, including hyperpigmentation, age spots, acne marks, old scars, uneven skin tone and melasma, finding a product that claims to tackle these issues safely and naturally has major appeal.

Meladerm ($50) for hyperpigmentation is a popular product that claims to do just that, but many RealSelf users have asked questions about its efficacy. We asked two of our top dermatologists to explain how effective products like Meladerm are to lighten and fade common skin conditions and to give us a few alternatives.


Does Meladerm work?

The manufacturers of Meladerm, Civant Skin Care say that they’ve incorporated a range of natural and “nature-inspired” ingredients into a skin-brightening product that is free from hydroquinone, steroids, mercury and harsh bleaching ingredients. Meladerm claims that it addresses hyperpigmentation, dark spots, sun damage, melasma, acne scarring, old scars, birthmarks, dark patches and uneven skin tone.

Seattle dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Reichel says that over-the-counter options with exfoliating ingredients including vitamin C, kojic acid, azeleic and other acids can be helpful. Plus, “Arbutin, one of the ingredients in Meladerm, is a derivative of hydroquinone and has been shown to improve pigment,” she adds.

Great then, right? Dr. Reichel says that you need to consider whether an OTC treatment like Meladerm is going to help your problem. “Skin-lightening, yes. Scars and stretch marks? Not really,” she says. For some problems, a more “natural” solution just might not get the job done, and you’d be better off going with a product your dermatologist trusts and recommends.


Related: 5 acne-busting pills, lasers and peels recommended by top experts


What are the alternatives?

“I would say the best ingredients for bleaching/fading pigmentation would be hydroquinone, retinol and vitamin C,” says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Benjamin Barankin. These are common ingredients in products that you’ll find at dermatologists’ offices, and each dermatologist will have favorite products to recommend.

SkinMedica’s Lytera [$130] is a safe and effective product sold in derm offices and works well, as is ZO’s Melamin [$66],” Dr. Barankin adds. “I think melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation will be improved, including that which occurs after acne, but I don’t think stretch marks will improve that much with these topicals.”

Dr. Reichel says that in her office they mostly concentrate on the prescription-strength topical treatments for pigment issues. “We prescribe a lot of hydroquinone and Retin-A as maintenance,” she says. “Then do everything from chemical peels to laser treatments for pigment issues.”


Related: Everything you need to know when choosing a chemical peel


Consulting with a dermatologist is going to give you realistic expectations of how much a topical solution is going to help with your specific issue, or whether you’d be better off going in a different direction. Both peels and laser treatments can be highly effective solutions for dealing with pigmentation issues and scarring, though both may require downtime, whereas topical solutions usually do not.

Your dermatologist might also suggest a combination of treatments — in-office and at-home — to tackle your concerns. For example, when you look at Dr. Barankin’s website, you see that chemical peels can make a huge difference to pigmentation-affected and scarred skin.

No matter what treatment you end up trying, it’s important to protect what you’ve fixed. “Sun protection is critical during any bleaching/fading process and afterward to prevent recurrence, especially with melasma,” says Dr. Barankin.