Cysteamine: How Does It Effectively Treat Melasma?


The term melasma can be classified as a discoloration or hyperpigmentation.  Dark spots can be caused by everything from sun damage to post-acne inflammation, presenting a "massive umbrella" for a variety of more precise diagnoses. However, melasma is a specific type of skin cancer, and it's particularly challenging to treat, as it can be triggered by the sun, but also by heat, hormones, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, birth control medications, and even stress. Sun spots just are what they are. Over time, it won't get better and worse. Melasma exhibits a different morphology because of its ill-defined edges and patchy appearance.

M for Melasma

Melasma is a chronic skin condition that results in dark, discoloured patches appearing on the face. It is a common problem that affects millions of people worldwide, particularly Asian women. Typical causes of melasma include sun damage caused by ultraviolet rays, hormonal changes during pregnancy, when taking birth control or due to thyroid disease, and lastly, stress. While there are treatments available for melasma, cysteamine has emerged as a more powerful and effective treatment option. In this article, we'll take a closer look at cysteamine's effectiveness in treating melasma!

What is Cysteamine?

Cysteamine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in the human body. It has been used for many years as an oral treatment of a rare genetic disorder, cystinosis. More recently, research has shown that Cysteamine, when used topically, can be used to treat melasma by decreasing pigmentation in the affected areas. A recent medical review in 2022 has analysed and concluded that cysteamine is an effective treatment for melasma and also comes with a low risk of complications. 

Is Cysteamine An Effective Treatment for Melasma?

1. Inhibits the overproduction of melanin

Several studies have shown that cysteamine can act as an effective skin depigmenting agent. In a patient with melasma, cells that are responsible for the production of melanin – melanocytes – become overactive, causing discoloration of the skin. Cysteamine tackles this symptom of melasma by inhibiting the overactivity of the melanocytes, in turn, decreasing the production of melanin and brightening the affected areas.

2. Reduces skin damage

Being an antioxidant, cysteamine can protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals, such as ultraviolet (UV) rays. Damage by these free radicals can be seen on the skin as hyperpigmentation such as melasma. As a result, cysteamine is able to prevent further damage on the skin, reducing the chances of conditions such as melasma from worsening and reoccurring.

Is Cysteamine Cream Better Than Hydroquinone?

When you're trying to even out the tone of your skin, products that contain skin lightening ingredients are some of the most popular treatments for dark marks and hyperpigmentation. If you're trying to get rid of dark marks or hyperpigmentation, you've probably heard of more than a few of these products.

There is no doubt that Hydroquinone is one of the most popular and well-known ingredients used in these products, although it has become a controversial ingredient in the recent past.


In comparing the patients who used Hydroquinone to the patients who used Cysteamine, the scientists running the study found that basically, the difference in results between the two was not statistically significant. So Hydroquinone was counted a bit higher in all categories, but not so much that it really made a difference between the two.

That said, everyone is different. What worked for these patients may not be right for you, so it’s hard to say with any real certainty, even with research to back it up, if one treatment or the other is “better” in any real way. 

How to Use Cysteamine Effective As a Treatment for Melasma?

Step 1

It is recommended that you apply the cysteamine cream once a day to the affected areas of your face that are dry and unwashed. Depending on your preferences, you can do this after waking up in the morning or before you wash your face at night.

Step 2

 It is recommended to leave Cysteamine cream on the affected areas for 15 minutes after application.

Step 3 

Wash the cream off the face using a gentle facial cleanser.

An important note when adding cysteamine to your skincare routine is to be careful when mixing it with other ingredients and products. It is recommended that when first adding cysteamine to your routine, ensure that you only use it with a simple moisturiser and sunscreen. Once your skin has gotten use to the addition of cysteamine, you can slowly (week-by-week) introduce your other regular products such as vitamin C serum, etc.

Cysteamine and More

In addition to using cysteamine, there are other steps and lifestyle adjustments that you can do to help manage your melasma. These include:

  • Avoiding sun exposure: Sun exposure is one of the primary triggers of melasma. It's important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, even on cloudy days.
  • There are certain skincare products that should be avoided: Harsh skincare products can irritate the skin, thus making melasma worse. Keep your skin clean by using gentle cleansers and stay away from products that contain alcohol or fragrances.
  • The best way to maintain a healthy complexion is to eat a healthy diet that is rich in antioxidants and nutrients to support the health of your skin. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet to help your body stay healthy.
  • It is important to manage your stress levels as stress can worsen melasma, so it is important to take steps to reduce your stress levels. Make time for self-care by practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, and by taking time out for yourself.

Using Cysteamine to Treat Melasma Effectively

There are a few things that you should keep in mind if you are considering using cysteamine to treat your melasma. First of all, it is imperative that you use the product in accordance with the instructions provided by your doctor or dermatologist. Cysteamine is typically applied topically to the skin, and consistency is quite vital if one hopes to see significant changes in the skin as a result of using it.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that while cysteamine can be effective in treating melasma, it is not a cure-all for melasma. It may take several weeks or even months for any visible results to be seen, even if you use it consistently over a long period of time. The risk of melasma developing again on the skin if treatment or preventive measures are not continued is higher since it is a chronic condition that is likely to relapse. If treatment or preventive measures are not provided, the condition is likely to develop again on the skin.