Let’s Get Even with Hydroquinone

Struggling with hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone? Hyperpigmentation is typically caused by melanocytes producing excess pigment in deeper layers of the skin, resulting in certain areas appearing darker. It is quick to form, yet takes time and patience to reverse the effects. While many ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinamide, and licorice extract provide skin brightening effects, hydroquinone remains to be one of the most well-established skin brightening ingredients in skincare. Let’s get better acquainted with it.

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What is Hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is an organic compound that acts as a skin lightening agent. It is considered the topical “gold standard” treatment for dark spots by dermatologists¹. It can assist in lightening a variety of hyperpigmentation on the skin such as melasma, age spots, hormonal pigmentation, acne scars, and freckles. Hyperpigmentation is normally caused by excess melanin production and works on a cellular level by hindering the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme known for producing melanin and pushing the melanin to the skin’s surface.

Using Hydroquinone:

Hydroquinone reduces the amount of melanin produced by melanocytes, which are the cells that reside in the basal layer of the epidermis that produce the melanin. In some cases, it will take four weeks to three months of continuous usage to begin seeing results or improvement⁴. By applying hydroquinone consistently every day, each new layer of skin will result in a brighter appearance.

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To start, apply a small amount of hydroquinone during the nighttime on cleansed skin. Make sure the skin is clear of excess dirt, oil, and makeup, as hydroquinone produces the best results when it can penetrate deeper into the skin. Hydroquinone is best used after toner, and before creams. Be sure to apply only in particular areas where hyperpigmentation and dark spots can be seen.

Since hydroquinone is a potent ingredient, we recommend starting by using it every other day, and then every day once the skin has built a tolerance to the product.

Depending on your skin type and its response to hydroquinone, take a one-month break from using it after three months. After giving your skin some time to rest, reintroduce it into your routine in combination with a Vitamin C 5% or Vitamin C 10% Serum for another three months.

Since hydroquinone can be drying on the skin, we highly recommend ending your skincare regimen with a hydrating moisturizer.

Side Effects of Hydroquinone:

Hydroquinone is not recommended for sensitive skin. Before incorporating hydroquinone into your daily skincare routine, we recommend performing a patch or skin sensitivity test on a small area of your skin. If no redness or itchiness occurs, begin integrating into your skincare routine after cleansing.

For some individuals, hydroquinone may cause sensitivity and irritation. If sensitivity persists while using the product, discontinue use and consult with your physician.

What Happened to Hydroquinone?

Up until recently, hydroquinone was available over-the-counter (OTC) in a 2% concentration without the need for a prescription. However, with no prior notice or widely published announcement, several OTC drugs that were pending a final monograph (rule book covering conditions for active ingredients) from the FDA were removed from the market through the passage of the CARES Act (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security). Due to the new regulations, hydroquinone has not been officially found to be GRASE (generally regarded as safe and effective) by the FDA.2 The ban in the US follows prior bans in other parts of the world like Japan, Australia, and Europe1, leaving many consumers confused and unhappy worldwide.

Hopefully, in the near future, the FDA will deem hydroquinone safe and effective. Read more here. In the meantime, here are effective skin brightening ingredients that can serve as alternatives:

  1. Azelaic Acid and Mulberry Extract: Highly effective skin lightening & depigmenting agents and effective antioxidants to help lighten age spots, brighten skin tone, and even out skin texture. https://www.skincarecrl.com/pigment.html
  2. Retinoid A derivative of vitamin A that provides anti-aging and skin brightening benefits by unclogging pores and enhancing the effects of skincare activities by removing dead skin cells and increasing absorption. https://www.skincarecrl.com/age-defying-retinol-2.html
  3. Alpha Arbutin: A natural skin lightening/whitening agent. It works by slowly releasing hydroquinone through hydrolysis, which in turn blocks tyrosinase activity and reduces the skin’s melanin production. https://www.skincarecrl.com/premier-spot-corrector.html
  4. Oil Soluble Licorice Extract: Inhibits pigmentation by preventing tyrosinase activation. Studies have shown that it can provide a considerable skin brightening effect while remaining non-toxic to melanin-forming cells. https://www.skincarecrl.com/vitapep-serum.html
  5. Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C): A powerful antioxidant, which uses a micro-delivery system to encourage collagen production, reverse sun damage, as well as lighten age spots and discoloration to reveal a brighter and more even skin tone. It also helps to refine pore size and rebuild collagen and elastin for firmer, younger-looking skin. https://www.skincarecrl.com/vitamin-c-serum.html
  6. Niacinamide: A potent, cell-communicating ingredient that stimulates microcirculation in the dermis. This ingredient improves skin elasticity, enhances its barrier function, helps minimize discoloration and wrinkles, and revives the skin’s healthy tone and texture. Niacinamide has a reputation for being able to treat uneven skin tone and mitigate acne and breakouts. https://www.skincarecrl.com/ultimate-vita-b35-serum.html
  7. Nelumbo Nucifera Callus Culture Extract: Callus stem cell culture medium consisting of highly concentrated cytokine, which is effective for anti-inflammation, antioxidant, and anti-wrinkle benefits. It also provides a natural brightening effect. https://www.skincarecrl.com/triple-brightening-mask.html

¹ Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology
² US National Library of Medicine
³ ResearchGate
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology

Gentle Skin Brightening Alternatives to Hydroquinone:

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