How Does It Work
Hydroquinone bleaches your skin by decreasing the number of melanocytes present. Melanocytes make melanin, which is what produces your skin tone.
In cases of hyperpigmentation, more melanin is present due to an increase in melanocyte production. By controlling these melanocytes, your skin will become more evenly toned over time.
It takes about four weeks on average for the ingredient to take effect. It may take several months of consistent use before you see full results.
If you dont see any improvements within three months of OTC use, talk to your dermatologist. They may be able to recommend a prescription-strength formula better suited to your needs.
Although hydroquinone can help fade red or brown spots that have lingered, it wont help with active inflammation. For example, the ingredient can help minimize acne scarring, but it wont have an effect on redness from active breakouts.
Is Hydroquinone Safe We Asked Experts To Give Us The Facts
Yvonne McGreevy is a researcher, fact-checker, video content creator, and writer with over 15 years of experience working with various publications.
When it comes to skincare, there are a few ailments that require a tad more than TLC to combat . Sure, the right skincare products are the first defensean exfoliant, a brightening cream, and a vitamin C serum, for starters. However, even with consistent use of products that are regarded as high efficacy, it’s possible a particularly stubborn spot will want to linger. That’s when some people look to other remedies, like hydroquinone.
According to plastic surgeon David Shafer, MD, “hydroquinone is a chemical compound discovered in the early 1800s and was used in everything from skincare to photo developing. The chemical interacts with the melanin-producing cells in the skin, decreasing the production of pigment.” While it can be effective at lightening dark spots on the skin, there’s been some debate about hydroquinone’s side effects.
Is hydroquinone safe, and does it pose any risk? We tapped into three other pros in addition to Shafer to get the full low-down: dermatologists Ava Shamban, MD, and Richard Bottiglione, MD, and cosmetic chemist Ee Ting Ng.
Meet the Expert
Type of ingredient: Spot lightener.
Main benefits: Lightens hyperpigmentation and age spots, evens out skin tone.
Keep reading to learn all about hydroquinone’s side effects and benefits.
How Strong Is Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone comes in a 4% prescription that is commercially available. Higher strengths must be compounded by a compounding pharmacy. The strength of your skin product will determine how often it should be applied and for how long. If irritation occurs, your dermatologist may recommend pulling back and limiting treatment to 3 days a week, rather than daily application.
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Natural Alternatives To Hydroquinone
While hydroquinone has cemented its place in the treatment of hyperpigmentation, it isnt the only approach to lightening skin. Even though it isnt dangerous, some may balk at the idea of applying a chemical daily or find treatment ineffective. As laid out below, there are several natural alternatives to hydroquinone.
How To Reduce Hyperpigmentation Within Weeks
When formulated with other high-quality ingredients, Hydroquinone accomplishes amazing things for those suffering with hyperpigmentation. The secret to great results in found in the quality of the product used, and the level of respect for your skin. Never take chances with inferior products and choose a Hydroquinone solution thats been formulated with high quality, complimentary ingredients you and your skin are worth it.
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So How Can Hydroquinone Make Skin Darker During This Process
The answer is in the fact that Hydroquinone doesnt actually remove the pigment from the skin, it just halts the production. This means that as melanocytes die off, theyre going to accumulate on your skin, just like any other type of dead skin cell. But, because these cells are more pigmented, the accumulation of them at the surface may temporarily make your skin look darker.
Depending on the severity of hyperpigmentation, this effect can last for a couple weeks before you really start to see improvements in your skin. While this shedding process is completely natural, there are a few steps you can take to make the effect as short lived as possible.
For example, committing to a regular, gentle skin care routine. Daily cleansing helps to remove dead skin cells and the excess oils and dirt that bind them to the skin surface. Maintaining a regular routine will facilitate the shedding of this dead skin.
Gentle exfoliation can also be used to help slough off the dead skin. However, Hydroquinone can make the skin more sensitive, so its best to only use a very gentle, natural enzymatic exfoliator. A high-quality Hydroquinone product will also contain ingredients such as Salicylic Acid, or Azelaic Acid, that will work to gently remove the hyperpigmented cells from the skins surface without the need for an additional exfoliant.
Gentler Alternatives To Hydroquinone
Just because youve decided that hydroquinone isnt worth the risks doesnt mean that you have to suffer with hyperpigmentation for the rest of your life. Weve rounded up three safer, effective alternatives that have been proven to reduce dark spots and improve skin clarity.
- Kojic acid is a compound derived from a mushroom-like fungi. Like hydroquinone, it inhibits and prevents the formation of tyrosine, but is a gentler alternative. You can find kojic acid in serums, treatments and creams. However, anyone with sensitive skin may experience redness and irritation, so be sure to patch test first.
- Niacinamide, or vitamin B3, doesnt stop the production of melanin, but instead reduces the amount of melanin that is transferred to the surface of the skin. By halting the movement of pigment, niacinamide makes dark spots appear lighter over time. Long-term use of niacinamide can also help to heal and reduce inflammatory pimples, like papules and pustules.
- Azelaic acid is a popular hydroquinone alternative for post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This gentle ingredient is ideal for acne-prone skin and works as a leave-on exfoliant to calm inflammation, destroy pigmented cells and reveal a more even skin tone. Look for azelaic acid in spot treatments, face washes and toners.
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What Is Hydroquinone And How Does It Work
“Hydroquinone is a topical skin treatment for melasma, freckles, age and sun spots, and even acne scars, says cosmetic and plastic surgeon David Shafer. Used in combination with other acne products such as Retin-A, hydroquinone can help dramatically improve skin complexion.Hydroquinone lightens the skin by supressing melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin.Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin and hair its colour. Sometimes, our skin produces too much melanin, because of sun exposure, inflammation, hormonal changes, or ageing. Hydroquinone slows down melanin production, allowing existing spots to fade while preventing new ones from forming.However, it can take several weeks for you to see the results. Hydroquinone creams work at the cellular level to reduce the production of pigment, Shafer explains, so you need to allow the skin to shed old cells and produce new ones.
Lighten Your Skin Tone And Brown Spots
Retin-A cream is a form of vitamin A that helps the renovation of your skin. Hydroquinone is a bleaching cream that is used to lighten the skin tone and brown spots. Both products are used to keep enhancing your skins color and glow after popular procedures like Botox or Acne treatments. Hydroquinone and Retin-A can be used together following the instructions below.
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Should You Try Hydroquinone
Hyperpigmentation and other skin conditions can severely affect a persons mental health. If you find that you have hyperpigmentation or dark spots and have exhausted other options, Hydroquinone may be the choice for you. The lotion can improve your quality of life by eliminating your dark patches and helping to even your skin tone.
If your hyperpigmentation is not severe, you may purchase Hydroquinone over the counter. If you find that the dosage is too low, you can consult with your doctor for a higher dosage. Hydroquinone has been approved as a safe product to apply to the skin, so you should not worry about using it. The fact that you have the option to choose between a lower over-the-counter dose and a higher prescribed dose should help as you can always try a higher dosage if the lower is not adequate. Many patients using Hydroquinone have experienced outstanding results and have lightened their hyperpigmentation by applying the location daily and consistently.
How To Fade Dark Spots In Darker Skin Tones
Have you tried treating dark spots on your own without getting the results you want? Do you see new dark spots appear as others fade?
If you answered yes, youre not alone. Darks spots and patches rank as one of the most common reasons that people who have darker skin tones see a dermatologist. The medical name for one cause of these dark spots is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Some people just call it hyperpigmentation for short.
Before and after treatment for dark spots
His dermatologist used laser therapy and prescription-strength hydroquinone cream to even out his skin tone in 8 weeks.
Getting rid of hyperpigmentation begins with finding out why you get these dark spots or patches. If you can eliminate the cause, many spots will clear on their own and you can prevent new ones from appearing.
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What Are The Side Effects And Risks Of Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone can cause mild irritant contact dermatitis when used in concentrations above 4%. A short drug holiday and/or application of a topical steroid will usually settle the reaction.
Commercial formulations of hydroquinone contain the preservative metabisulphite, which can cause an allergic reaction.
Concerns have been raised about the safety of hydroquinone in Europe, Japan, and the USA due to:
- High dose oral hydroquinone causing cancer in rats, however after 50 years of topical use there have been no cases of cancer reported in humans
- Exogenousochronosis due to topical hydroquinone used in high concentrations, multiple times per day, for years.
Other reported cutaneous adverse effects of hydroquinone include:
The safety of topical hydroquinone has not been established in pregnancy and lactation.
Nail pigmentation due to hydroquinone use
Is There A Cure For Melasma
While there are home treatments and doctor-prescribed options, Melasma is technically incurable. The condition can be contained and essentially reversed but not permanently eliminated. There is also a chance for the condition to flare up again if left untreated.
Its believed that sunlight and hormone changes are the most common causes of Melasma, so they can often trigger flare-ups in those with the condition. While its possible to reduce sun exposure to keep the condition at bay, hormone changes may come randomly or unexpectedly, meaning it can be hard to contain the condition indefinitely.
Limiting sun exposure and wearing protection against the sun is a great way to reduce triggers to the condition. Short amounts in the sun can create new patches and worsen hyperpigmentation.
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Over The Counter Creams
These products typically combine hydroquinone with other skin-lightening ingredients. To avoid skin reactions, start with 2% concentration. Temporarily stop using exfoliators and facial brushes, or other products that contain acids like AHAs/BHAs or Vitamin C. Give your skin time to adjust to the ingredient. Dermatologist Richard Bottiglione also recommends starting with a hydroquinone spot treatment. Most people dont need it all over the skin, just in particular areas. You should use it in the areas with hyperpigmentation. If you tend to be sensitive, he suggests using it on alternating days.When you know that your hydroquinone product works well with your skin, add a glycolic cleanser to your skincare routine. Over the years I have never found a more effective treatment for unwanted pigmentation than glycolic acid and hydroquinone, says Dr. Bottiglione.Dermatologists also say that you need to use sunscreen with SPF 30 whenever you use any skin lightening cream. I even recommend using your hydroquinone at night, to avoid any sun sensitivity, says Dr. Patel.
How I Applied The Hydroquinone To My Melasma
Each night I washed my face using olive oil and warm water. I then applied the Hydroquinone to the melasma sections of my face and went to bed. Each morning I would wash off my face, apply sunscreen, concealer& my favorite foundation for melasma. I wore hats when I go outside and I even got my car windows tinted to block out the UV rays.
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This Is What An Expert Has To Say About Using Hydroquinone To Treat Dark Spots
Dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and acne scars are three of the peskiest skin issues we experience. The right skincare products are the first defense, like a good exfoliant, brightening cream, and vitamin C serum. However, even with all of the best products in the world, its possible a particularly stubborn spot will stick around. Thats when some people look to other remedies, like hydroquinone.
According to cosmetic and plastic surgeon David Shafer, MD, FACS, Hydroquinone is a chemical compound discovered in the early 1800s, which was used in everything from skincare to photo developing. The chemical interacts with the melanin-producing cells in the skin, decreasing the production of pigment. While it can be effective at lightening dark spots on the skin, there has been some debate as to whether or not its safe. Keep reading to see what the expert has to say.
Hydroquinone is a topical skin treatment for melasma, freckles, age and sun spots, and even acne scars, Shafer says. Used in combination with other acne products such as Retin-A, hydroquinone can help dramatically improve skin complexion. That doesnt mean it has permanent effects, though. In fact, Shafer says its quite the opposite. The effect is temporary, as discontinued use and exposure to the sun can lead to renewed production of pigment and the return of dark spots.
How A Dermatologist Can Help With Hyperpigmentation
If the treatment youre using fails to deliver the results you want, you may want to see a dermatologist. Dark spots and patches can be a challenge to treat. To get rid of some dark spots or patches, you may need a prescription-strength treatment.
A dermatologist has the knowledge and expertise to safely combine treatments to help you get the best results.
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What Is Hydroquinone Cream
Hydroquinone is a crystalline compound used as a depigmentation or skin-lightening agent in skin care. It helps to lighten areas of darkened skin, such as hyperpigmentation, freckles, age spots and melasma caused by acne, hormonal fluctuations or injury to the skin.
Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the effects of tyrosinase, which is an enzyme necessary in producing pigment in the skin, explains Dr. Christopher Zoumalan, a Beverly Hills-based, board-certified cosmetic surgeon. By halting the skins production of melanin, hydroquinone prevents existing dark spots from getting darker and causes them to gradually fade. Hydroquinone does not permanently lighten skin.
Still considered the go-to spot lightener in the U.S., many dermatologists recommend hydroquinone to:
- Treat any type of hyperpigmentation, from the post inflammatory hyperpigmentation left behind after an acne breakout to age and sun spots
- Fade melasma, which appears as patches of darker skin, typically on the forehead, cheeks and upper lip
- Even out skin tone by lightening darker areas of skin for a more balanced complexion
What Is Hydroquinone Commonly Used For
If youre an avid photographer, you may have heard of hydroquinone before. Outside of the skin care world, this active ingredient can be found in the darkroom used by photographers as a developing agenttargeting silver halides, specifically.
Back in the realm of skin care, however, it is commonly used to provide cosmetic treatment for a number of skin conditions including:
Things like melasma and freckles can come about due to a change in hormones. For example, women may notice them more during pregnancy or even after trying out a new form of birth control. However, you can take action to prevent age spots and acne scars. Applying SPF regularly or avoiding the urge to pick at pimples may help to stop these conditions before they start.
Whatever is triggering your hyperpigmentation, hydroquinone could be a viable path towards a clearer, more even complexion. Before diving right in, its important to be advised about a few possible side effects.
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What Treatments Do Dermatologists Recommend For Hyperpigmentation
Effective treatment for dark spots and patches begins with sunscreen. Whether youre treating the dark spots on your own or seeing a dermatologist, using sunscreen is essential when you’ll be outside. Applied daily, sunscreen can prevent new dark spots and patches. It can also help to clear existing ones.
Youll want to apply sunscreen to all skin that clothing wont cover.
To get the best result, dermatologists also recommend wearing a wide-brimmed hat when youre outside.
To get the protection you need to prevent dark spots, use a sunscreen that offers all of the following:
SPF 30 or higher
One of these active ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide
Non-comedogenic formula if you have oily skin
Are you tempted to skip the sunscreen because it leaves a white cast on your skin?
Consider using a tinted sunscreen, which can blend into your skin tone.
Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes
The interprofessional health care team, such as physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, play an essential role in monitoring patients on hydroquinone. It is important to monitor patients to ensure that they only use the medication as prescribed for no more than 5 to 6 months to limit side effects. Nursing staff can play a significant role in monitoring the patient and evaluating compliance, as it is important to follow instructions for the medication application, its frequency, keep a watchful eye for any adverse effect, which should be clearly explained to the patient. Patients should be instructed to cease using the medication if any irritation, hypersensitivity, or allergic reaction occurs. Pharmacists can review the use and adverse events when dispensing the drug, and monitor when the patient comes in for refills, alerting the prescribing clinician regarding any concerns. The rare, yet most potentially harmful, side effect of ochronosis needs to be explained to patients using hydroquinone, and they should be instructed to discontinue this medication immediately if this occurs. A collaborative interprofessional team approach to hydroquinone therapy will guide outcomes most effectively.
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