Hydroquinone is a common topical agent used in skin bleaching, skin lightening products, and treatments. It is widely known to effectively lighten areas of the skin darkened by post-acne scars, age spots, freckles, chloasma, and melasma.
Hydroquinone works its wonders by preventing the skin from producing too much melanin, a natural pigment responsible for giving the skin its brown color. By repressing the enzyme called tyrosinase, which is essential in generating melanin, it inhibits the enzyme from doing its job of producing melanin particles. When the skin stops producing melanin and increases the process of breaking it down, a lighter skin tone is achieved.
Since the skin has different characteristics between individuals, seeing results may vary from a couple of weeks to four weeks with regular use. Over the course of a few months using hydroquinone, visible results such as the reduced appearance of dark spots should be expected. Keep in mind that the dosage of hydroquinone should not be exceeded as that recommended by your doctor.
There has been a lot of debate regarding the safety of applying hydroquinone on the skin to attain a lighter skin tone. Negative reviews mostly stem from hydroquinone being banned in South Africa years back when the medical condition known as ochronosis, a skin discoloration characterized by the bluish-black pigmentation of certain skin tissues, was linked to using the skin lightening agent. However, it was discovered that hydroquinone was used together with illegal ingredients like mercury and glucocorticoids, leading to the belief that the culprit behind ochronosis are these contaminants and not hydroquinone itself.
When used appropriately and in the right amount of concentration, hydroquinone is not only safe; it is also very effective in battling stubborn skin issues like hyperpigmentation. In the U.S., over-the-counter skin lightening products containing hydroquinone are allowed to have a maximum concentration of 2%. Higher amounts of hydroquinone concentration are used for more severe cases of dark or brown spots, and it usually requires a doctor’s prescription.
At this writing, hydroquinone is approved by the FDA to be a safe ingredient to use. In general, people who have used hydroquinone and have suffered no negative side effects are very satisfied with the outcome. However, it is always a good idea to do extensive research and to talk to professional dermatologists, particularly board-certified ones, about using hydroquinone, especially if you have sensitive skin or if there is a chance that you might be allergic to hydroquinone.