Hydroquinone – A Lightening Ingredient


Topical application of hydroquinone is considered by many dermatologists to be a safe option in reducing or eliminating skin discolorations. It is considered the primary topical ingredient for inhibiting melanin production. Topical hydroquinone is available at a 2% concentration in cosmetic products and up to a 4% concentration that is available only from a physician or by prescription.  

Hydroquinone, a strong inhibitor of melanin production, has been established as the most effective ingredient for reducing and potentially eliminating melasma, meaning that it prevents skin from making the substance responsible for skin color. Hydroquinone does not bleach the skin, which is why ‘bleaching agent’ is misname, it can’t remove pigment from the skin cell. 

Superficial pigmentation, aging skin changes can be lightened by using hydroquinone, especially when it is used in combination with a retinoid (vitamin A). It can greatly reduce pigmentation, dark spots and even eliminate skin discolorations. Whether it is used alone or in combination with retinoid, it has an impressive track record. Research has repeatedly shown that hydroquinone and retinoid are powerful tools against sun- or hormone-induced melasma.

Hydroquinone can be an unstable ingredient in cosmetic formulations. When exposed to air or sunlight, it oxidizes and will turn brown. Therefore, when you are considering buying and using a hydroquinone product, make sure that it is packaged in a non-transparent that does not let in light and that minimizes exposure to air. Hydroquinone products packaged in jars are not recommended because they become ineffective shortly after opening. 

Unprotected sun exposure should be avoided, because it reverses the effect of hydroquinone by increasing melanin production. 

Occasionally, at higher concentrations (4% or higher), persons with darker skin will experience increased pigmentation, but this is rare. It also can cause mild skin irritation and there is the possibility of an allergic reaction. 

Hydroquinone 4% or higher, should be stopped after six months of use as there is risk of hyperpigmentation with prolonged use. After a rest period of three to six months, higher concentration hydroquinone may be used again. Three months on and three months off is another acceptable way to use stronger hydroquinone.

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