Aesthetic Dermatology Update

Treating poikiloderma


As the summer ends, greater numbers of patients request treatment for poikiloderma. Poikiloderma of Civatte is an acquired, irreversible sun-induced dermatosis and is one of the most frustrating dermatologic problems to treat.

Poikiloderma is an area of mottled pigmentation (hyper and hypo) with telangiectasias and atrophy often present on the V of the chest, lateral neck, and lateral face. It is always present in sun-exposed areas but shaded areas of the neck, such as the area under the chin, are spared. Cumulative UV radiation is the predominant underlying cause; however, postmenopausal hormonal changes and contact sensitization with perfumes and cosmetics can exacerbate the condition.

A patient with poikiloderma before and after treatment. Courtesy Dr. Lily Talakoub

A patient with poikiloderma before and after treatment.

Breaking down the subtypes will help direct the treatment options. There are two main types of poikiloderma – telangiectatic and hyperpigmented – and of course, an overlap between the two. Choosing which subtype is dominant is based primarily on clinical presentation and dermoscopic findings. Atrophy is ubiquitous, thus collagen remodeling is a necessary treatment for both.

In my clinical practice, the pigmentation component of poikiloderma in all skin types is pretreated and posttreated with topical hydroquinone and/or oral tranexamic acid to avoid recurrence after any laser treatment. In the majority of my patients with poikiloderma, I first treat the pigmentation with hydroquinone and tranexamic acid (if the patient is a candidate) to minimize the pigment as much as possible and then treat the telangiectasias with lasers. I try to avoid laser treatment of the hyperpigmentation if at all possible.

Dr. Lily Talakoub, McLean (Va.) Dermatology and Skin Care Center

Dr. Lily Talakoub

Telangiectatic poikiloderma is characterized by a linear and reticular dilated network of vessels. Laser treatment options include IPL, V-beam, and KTP lasers. Multiple treatments are usually necessary and if the patient has concomitant flushing and burning symptoms associated with poikiloderma, topical rosacea treatments such as topical oxymetazoline, as well as avoidance of fragrance, and strict use of a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen, should be initiated prior to laser treatments.

Hyperpigmented poikiloderma is characterized by mottled hyperpigmentation caused by the increased melanin irregularly distributed in the basal layer of the epidermis and melanophages within the dermis. The best treatment for this is with 1,927-nm fractionated resurfacing modalities. Although IPL has been used in this area and is often recommended in the literature for the lentigines, in my experience, the results are transient and it is much harder to blend the color of the skin with the surrounding area of the neck, lateral chest, shoulders, and arms. The 1,927-nm fractionated laser allows for a smoother transition and blending of the skin and also helps with some collagen remodeling of the dermis.

Atrophy is visualized under dermoscopy as a white polka dot–like print with flattened, atrophic epidermis and an elastotic papillary dermis in between the hyperemic telangiectatic network. With every case of poikiloderma, there is some atrophy present; therefore, I combine platelet rich plasma (PRP), PRP with microneedling, or very light treatments with the Fraxel dual (1927/1550) laser to help improve architectural changes of the dermis.

As with any condition of the chest and neck, there is a very fine line between treatment efficacy and complications. All treatments, particularly lasers, should be used with considerable caution and test spots and with the expectation that the treatment will mitigate, not resolve the condition. Sun avoidance, use of daily mineral SPF, and avoidance of fragrance should be emphasized. If expectations are set properly, patients are often satisfied with small improvements as this condition can be very troubling and difficult to treat.

Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Write to her at She had no relevant disclosures.


Geronemus R. Arch Dermatol. 1990 Apr;126(4):547-8.

Goldman MP and Weiss RA. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2001 May;107(6):1376-81.

Katoulis AC and Stavrianeas NG. Poikiloderma of Civatte. In: Rigopoulos D, Katoulis AC, editors. Hyperpigmentation (Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2017). Chapter 12.

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