Dealing with hyperpigmentation: La Roche Posay Mela-D Serum

A few years ago, when I was pregnant and then when I was nursing, I skimped on the sunblock and developed melasma, which manifested itself as hyperpigmented patches along both cheekbones. I know it's not a big deal but it is a pain to see it in the mirror every day. Why, you ask? Well, growing up in a traditional Chinese setting meant being exposed to a constant obsession with having pure white skin.  So, it is no small exaggeration to say that hyperpigmentation is an issue that I am all too familiar with.

Lucy Liu, an Asian celebrity with lots of freckles...
A couple years ago, I wrote in detail about the chemistry of skin lightening topical treatments, along with a brief description of La Roche-Posay Mela-D Serum  as a possible solution to dealing with hyperpigmentation, but I never wrote a follow-up* on my initial review (see the original post here). A few months ago, someone asked me for advice on how to treat melasma, to which I responded directly but I did not write a blog post. And then, by coincidence, La Roche-Posay recently gifted me with a bottle of their newly reformulated Mela-D serum, and requested a review**, so I thought, now is the time to revisit this issue!

Hyperpigmentation is due to the production of melanin in response to sun exposure, and it can be triggered by many things, including damage to the skin, inflammation and acne. It can be exacerbated by hormonal fluctuations (such as during pregnancy or when taking oral contraceptives; also known as melasma) and certain medications, along with the effects of ageing. Short of living in a cave, there are a few ways to deal with hyperpigmentation. One surefire method is laser treatments that destroy melanin-containing skin cells. The next best bet is the use of a skin lightening treatment that contains a compound that inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that catalyzes the biochemical synthesis of melanin in vivo. Tyrosinase inhibitors are usually paired with a skin exfoliator (such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or AHAs) or a retinoid that speeds up the rate of cell turnover, to help slough off the pigmented skin cells and uncover newer, less pigmented skin cells below.

La Roche Posay Mela-D Pigment Control Serum
(click link for ingredient list; $55, available at Shopper's Drug Mart; in the U.S., available online at SkinCareRX.com)


As mentioned in my previous post, the active ingredient in Mela-D serum is kojic acid, an inhibitor of tyrosinase. Mela-D serum, which is the older formulation, contains 1% kojic acid, 0.2% capryloyl salicylic acid ("LHA"), and 5.7% glycolic acid. Mela-D Pigment Control, which is the newest formulation, contains 2% kojic acid. In this review, I used the older formulation containing 1% kojic acid.

Kojic acid, inhibitor of tyrosinase;
occurs naturally in some species of fungi. 

The serum is free of synthetic fragrances and dyes, and it is also paraben-free. As mentioned above, capryloyl salicylic acid, and glycolic acid are exfoliators, and help to slough off pigmented skin cells, exposing less pigmented skin cells beneath.

The serum is a thin, whitish liquid that is slightly more viscous than water. A dropper is provided with the bottle of serum: 2-3 drops is enough to cover my cheekbones and forehead. It is easily absorbed once applied. According to the instructions, you are to apply it once a day in the evening, and you must protect your skin with sunscreen SPF 15 or greater, and preferably wear a hat. I apply this to my cheekbones once a day. In the mornings before going outside, I make sure to apply a tiny dab of moisturizer, SPF 30 sunblock, and a final brush of Jane Iredale PurePressed Minerals SPF 20 over top.

With my gift from La Roche Posay;
photo in natural light,
after about 6 months of regular use of Mela-D serum
(old formulation, purchased by me).
I have been using this for about 6 months now according to the above-noted routine, and it has not caused any irritation or allergic reaction. It has definitely helped to lighten some of the smaller, lighter hyperpigmented patches. It has come in very handy for speeding up the fading of the dark spots left over from healed pimples. After an extremely hot and sunny summer, I'm pleased to say I have not formed any new freckles or patches, so I know it is working - usually I can count up a few new freckles at the end of every summer. Unfortunately, it has yet to make any significant inroads on the larger, darker patches, but I knew ahead of time that those patches would probably require more drastic measures, like laser treatments.

Serum in a 3 mL travel cosmetic jar
(one portion lasts me about a week).
The active ingredients in this formulation are sensitive to light and to oxidation, so it is packaged in an opaque glass bottle, with a glass dropper. With my previous bottle, I was lazy and left the dropper in the bottle all the time rather than just using the dropper to remove what I needed. As a result, the contents turned dark yellow after about 6 months. This time around, I am being much more careful, pouring out a small aliquot into a travel cosmetic jar, and keeping the bottle sealed and stored in a cool, dark place.

(If you want to prolong the freshness of any skin care product, do as a chemist would do: prepare aliquots using a clean spatula or dropper and one or more spare containers. Keep the original container tightly sealed and stored in a cool, dry and dark place.)

*In case you are wondering about why I would write a follow-up, it often takes a long time to see an noticeable effect with skin care products, and it is especially true for a product like this. This is because the average rate of skin cell turnover is about 28 days, and this rate increases in length as we age.


**As alluded to above, I discovered La Roche-Posay's Mela-D serum a couple years while searching for a skin lightening treatment. I used it for about 5 months in 2010 but put it away in 2011. I purchased a new bottle and started using it again regularly about 6 months ago. It is a happy coincidence that La Roche-Posay gifted me with a bottle and requested a review two weeks ago. The current formulation is supposed to contain a higher concentration of active ingredients than the older formulation I used in 2010. The bottle they sent me is as yet unopened as I am still using the bottle purchased earlier this year, which is the older formulation containing 1% kojic acid. Thank you to La Roche-Posay Canada for the gift. As always, the review above is my own opinion.
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7 comments

  1. I have a lot of freckles on my arms and hands from sunexposure in my teens and twens and i really dont like it,esp. on the hands.
    A couple weeks ago i got a hand cream from la roche -posay and now hopefully see some results.
    I am totally using sunblock now nearly everywhere.
    Thanks for the review!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ina, thank you - let me know how the hand cream works out!

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  2. I've been looking at this to address the same sort of hyperpigmentation - thanks for the in-depth review! Sounds like a winner. It's always nice to see it again several months down the line, too, to see if it continues to work!

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  3. Thanks for this review, Louise. Living in .sydney, where it's sunny almost all the time, view developed lots of freckles and pigmented areas on my face and décolletage. I wear factor 30 sunscreen EVERY day, but still, the sunny here is fierce. I will def try to hunt down some of this to try!

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  4. Louise, does one put it all over the face? Or just on the places where there are darker spots/freckles/etc...? Also, would you consider mentioning the possible effects on fertility when you do these reviews? I always wonder about that. Maybe not a big deal for face produts, moreso for body products, but still curious. If you know & can share when you review...that'd be great. Thanks for reading :)

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  5. hello! would you happen to know if this product is safe to use during pregnancy?

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    Replies
    1. This formulation contains kojic acid, glycolic acid (an AHA) and a form of salicylic acid, capryloyl salicylic acid, as the active ingredients. Kojic acid and glycolic acid are safe for use during pregnancy, but some doctors recommend avoiding salicylic acid and its derivatives during pregnancy. On those grounds, those who are very strict on following all recommendations of what to avoid during pregnancy, would probably choose to stay away from this. Having said that, I have heard that some women do continue to use skin care products with salicylic acid pregnancy, mainly to combat acne that crops up during pregnancy. The concentration of capryloyl salicylic acid in this product is probably very low, as it is the second-to-last ingredient in the list, so the risk of any negative effect is also likely very low. As per Gigi's question earlier, this is probably better as a spot treatment, rather than an all-over mask - this would also help to minimize exposure.

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