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Background. Chemical peels have become a popular method for treating melasma. Although daily topical 0.05 and 0.1% tretinoin have been used for melasma, the therapy takes at least 4 to 6 months to produce clinically significant lightening. In a recent trial, 1% tretinoin peel has shown good clinical and histologic results after biweekly applications in 2.5 weeks only in the treatment of melasma.

Objective. Because there is a paucity of studies evaluating the efficacy and safety of 1% tretinoin peel in the treatment of melasma in dark-skinned Asian population, we conducted a pilot study to evaluate the efficacy and side effects of this potentially new peeling agent versus a standard peeling agent, 70% glycolic acid, in the treatment of melasma in Indian women.

Methods. Ten female patients of melasma, after written consent, were taken up for an open left–right comparison pilot study of 12 weeks. One percent tretinoin peel was applied on one-half of the face, whereas 70% glycolic acid was applied on the other at weekly intervals. The results were evaluated by a clinical investigator by using the modified Melasma Area and Severity Index and with photographs at baseline and 6 and 12 weeks.

Results. A significant decrease in the modified Melasma Area and Severity Index from baseline to 6 weeks and then from 6 to 12 weeks was observed on both facial sides (p<0.001). Nevertheless, there was no statistically significant difference between the right and the left sides. Side effects were minimal and 1% tretinoin peel appeared to be well tolerated by the patients.

Conclusions. It was concluded from the present trial that serial 1% tretinoin peel is a well tolerated and as effective a therapy for melasma in dark-skinned individuals as a standard and well-tried chemical peel, 70% glycolic acid, although larger trials over longer periods may be necessary to substantiate such findings.