What is hydroquinone?
Many of us, especially those with medium to darker skin tones, know the struggles of hyperpigmentation – where some areas of our body develop a noticeably darker skin tone than the rest of our body. This occurs due to an excess production of melanin. Hyperpigmentation usually occurs on the face and the back of the hands but can impact any part of the body.
One of the ways to deal with hyperpigmentation is skin-lightening treatments and products targeted at the areas of your body that are darker than others. A popular ingredient in these skin-lightening products is hydroquinone. It is used to lighten age spots, melasma (a type of hyperpigmentation), freckles, and other types of skin discolorations.
Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the production of melanocytes. Melanocytes make melanin which is the pigment that gives your skin its color. While it is one of the most effective ingredients to lightening dark spots, the effects of this aren’t permanent or even immediate. Exposure to the sun and discontinued use can return dark spots and it takes weeks or even months sometimes to see results.
OTC products contain hydroquinone at concentrations up to 2% while there are concentrations up to 4% which require a prescription. This is due to concerns about the safety of hydroquinone with even the FDA not ruling out that this ingredient might be carcinogenic. Hydroquinone has also been classified as a skin toxicant and allergen by other groups. Let’s take a look at what some of these risks are.
Hydroquinone is a frequent skin irritant and is associated with altered immune function and carcinogenic effects in animals. It may also cause a condition known as ochronosis which results in increased pigmentation or darkening of the skin that is caused by hydroquinone in high concentrations and over long-term use.
Some alternatives for Hydroquinone:
There are natural alternatives to this ingredient if you are wary of the risks involved. One such ingredient is arbutin. It is a naturally occurring compound close to the composition of hydroquinone. It has powerful skin brightening properties. This is a better alternative since it has a low irritancy risk and isn’t linked to an increased risk for cancer.
Other than this, you can also turn to antioxidants like vitamins A and C which help brighten skin tone and with regular and sustained use, can also lighten areas of hyperpigmentation. Plant based acids like kojic and ellagic acids are also used to inhibit melanin production. Vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide, can also help combat hyperpigmentation.
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