Here it is. Almost 15 years of my extensive sun spots and melasma treatment learnings all here for you. For free. And at the request of my friends – organized by budget.
How to Treat Melasma and Dark Spots without Hydroquinone on Any Skincare Budget
I was shocked to develop melasma at a very young age. One day out of the blue while at my favorite beach (Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina) while wearing tons of sunscreen. It has been so hard to treat but I’ve made most breakthroughs in the past 4 years, especially the past 2 and amazingly healed even more dark spots in the past 1.
My facial melasma appeared across my forehead, around my cheeks, below my eyes and yes, as the dreaded and very hard to treat upper lip melasma or “melasma mustache”.
I’m so passionate about mindful, green and clean beauty and that it can absolutely heal very tricky skin issues. You don’t have to use harsh chemicals! In fact, I found my skin responded best to more gentle daily enzyme exfoliation.
I want you to heal your melasma and dark spots quickly. I also don’t want you to have to spend a fortune doing so. So I’m laying out all of my skintellectual property (hope my husband finds this clever, I wonder if he reads this anyway haha) to help you. My only ask? If any of my bespoke routines and recommendations work for you, link back to my site and Instagram and share. I worked so hard to find solutions when it seemed there were few that would work for me.
Below my guide, I’ve also provided – from what I can remember – all of the products I’ve tried to treat my hyperpigmentation and melasma.
As a reminder, I’m not a doctor and you should always see advice from your doctors and healthcare professionals for your concerns.
About my hyperpigmentation skincare routines:
- It took me a looong time to have my miracle baby so before that, I was careful about products I used when we work working to conceive. I only just started to truly try retinol this year so you won’t see many on the first version of this list.
- Harsh treatments were also not recommended by my dermatologists as in addition to the above concerns they could have stressed out my skin and made my vitiligo worse.
- Almost 8 years ago when I truly started my clean beauty and clean living campaign in our house, we removed harsh chemicals and artificial fragrances. Because of this, we became keenly aware and very sensitive to any fragrances. This made it very difficult to find fragrance-free or almost fragrance-free skincare. So you won’t find many non-luxury skincare items here. Ingredients do matter and they can cost more.
- When I first developed Melasma within a year my doctor prescribed me Tri-Luma. It did not work. At all. If anything maybe it was too harsh and started my vitiligo? To be fair I also had recently (just a few months before melasma developed) learned I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (and 2 or more autoimmune conditions is common). My last dermatologist also confirmed if Tri-Luma didn’t work I certainly shouldn’t try it or hydroquinone again.
- Most of the skincare I recommend is non-toxic, cruelty-free, organic, vegan and gluten-free. I am brand agnostic but have some favorites 🙂
Healing Melasma with No Budget for Skincare – what you can do for “free”
- Drink a sh$t ton more water! Real water. But if you like bubbles you may like my Spindrift review : it’s so much better than LaCroix
- Eat more vegetables
- Google / YouTube “mindfulness meditation” and follow it regularly 🙂
- Perform light, stress-relieving exercises like walking. Get you, your body and your liver moving 🙂
- Cut stressful people out of your life
- When I developed melasma I was in deep denial – about how not-good my boyfriend at the time was, how I put too much pressure on myself in college, and how tired I was from my health issues and previous years of chronic pain.
- Wear sunscreen every day. Every. Single. Day. I don’t care what the weather is where you live. I don’t care (in this first step) what kind of sunscreen you use
- Get more sleep.
Dark Spot and Melasma Treatment Plan with $30 Budget
- Seriously though, are you drinking more water?
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Borrow a mindfulness mediation book from your local library
- Cut more stressful things and situations out of your life 🙂
- Swap your chemical sunscreen for a physical or mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide. Start with any one you can find. There are so many more options now like this Australian Gold Face Sunscreen from Amazon.
- Eat more vegetables. Like for real: swap out some of the other crap you eat for more vegetables. But specifically, eat a $hit ton of carrots and asparagus! Vegetables aren’t cheap so some of this $$ is for your asparagus fund haha.
- I hated asparagus growing up but a year ago I started craving it and now I eat pounds of it a week. My skin has never looked better!
Dark Spot and Melasma Treatment Plan with an $80+ Budget
- Continue all of the above
- Stop buying non-clean beauty products or makeup at least for a few weeks. Focus on good skincare first 🙂
- STOP using harsh physical exfoliators, for now.
- Purchase a truly fantastic enzyme exfoliator like Drunk Elephant Sukari Babyfacial AHA+BHA Mask ($80).
- I use this lifesaving mask 2x a week. Start with 1 then work up to 2-3.
- I also think I saw some decent “instant” results with Ole Henriksen Power Peel Transforming Facial System ($50) but this is more of a single/ very few uses system
Healing Dark Spots, Hyperpigmentation and Melasma on a Budget
- If you have $50 more to spend in addition to the above:
- If you have ~$50 more to spend overtime in addition to the above guidelines:
- Work to solve other stressors in your skin. For me it was dehydration. My skin has improved significantly in the past 16 months when I added in face mists. You could get a travel size of Josh Rosebrook Hydrating Accelerator ($22) and change your life forever.
- Add in a lovely and subtly powerful antioxidant serum that you can use morning and night. I can’t say enough good things about the Ere Perez Quandong Booster serum ($34). This little green wonder is the best bang for your buck!
- If you have ~$110 more to spend over time in addition to the above:
- Buy holy grail status Biologique Recherche gentle acid exfoliating and balancing lotion p50 ($110). This will last you for 4 months and will make all of your other skincare work better! For more on ‘acid toning’ read Caroline Hirons’ new Skincare Book!
- Upgrade to more gentle, regular exfoliations or a beauty exfoliating cleanser like De Mamiel Brightening Cleanse & Exfoliate ($70)
- Start using good-for-you makeup with you wear makeup. Ere Perez Oat Milk Foundation ($39) is a fantastic choice. I wear “Honey”. My skin truly started getting better last September when I switched to Ere Perez. Gressa is another great option but it is pricier.
- You could also dabble with a few budget products from The Ordinary (more on that later 🙂 ). Maybe the Alpha-Arbutin Serum? (but I would honestly try Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream first). Or I liked the Alpha Lipoic Acid.
- If you have ~$200 more to spend over time in addition to the above:
- You need to upgrade to an even better night serum. I recommend Marie Veronique Lightening Serum ($110) or Kypris Beauty Moonlight Catalyst ($98) OR add in a truly luscious mask powered by Azalaeic acid and other acids: Maya Chia Refresh Mint mask ($68).
- Finally, try the power of algae with astaxanthin and the best beauty oil ever, my beloved Maya Chia The Super Couple Oil ($86), another star ingredient of my “fast” routine.
And don’t forget to check out my skincare routine for fast melasma treatment and healing.
(Almost) all of the skincare I’ve tried to heal my hyperpigmentation, melasma and dark spots:
For most of these, I saw little to no results
- Tata Harper Brightening Serum $$$
- Tata Harper Resurfacing Masks
- True Botanicals
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum
- Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
- Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
- Sunday Riley CEO Oil
- Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Serum
- Ole Henriksen Truth Serum
- Ole Henriksen Sheer Transformation Perfecting Moisturizer
- Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator
- Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Moisturizer
- Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
- The Ordinary Mandelic Acid
- The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
- Caudalie Vinoperfect Anti Dark Spot Serum (multiple of these 🙁 )
- Indie Lee Squalane Oil
- First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads
- Farsali Unicorn Essence
- Acure Organics Green Mask. Actually every Acure product
- All relevant MyChelle products
- Amore Pacifica Enzyme Exfoliator
- Murad Dark Spot Corrector
- Clinique Dark Spot Corrector
- Several Juice Beauty skincare products
- Several Origins products when I used to think that was “clean beauty” haha
- Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
- Korres Wild Rose Vitamin C
- Actually, just about every Vitamin C serum out there
- Erno Laszlo Dual Phase Vitamin C-Peel
- Several samples of any C + Ferulic acid serums I could get my hands on haha
- Most Herbivore products
- Most Peter Thomas Roth products
- MyChelle products
- The Body Shop products
- REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask
- All relevant products from
- Yes to Carrots etc
- Burts Bees