Lily-white skin. Many stories about this ideal can be found in the history books. In the wig days, but also long before that, people wanted a pale and even face. Chalk, white lead or even mercury were used to get a smooth skin! In this article we will discover how hydroquinone helps for pigmentation spots.
Smearing Off Pigment Is Not Easy
Fortunately, we know better these days. And thanks to many studies, we also understand how pigmentation spots arise and how we can treat them. I have already described on my blog that pigmentation spots make us look older (perhaps even more than wrinkles) (see an illustration here). It is therefore the most common reason to visit a cosmetic dermatologist (about 20%!).
Many cosmetic products promise to get rid of the stains. Don’t be fooled: most don’t work. Pigmentation is a complex skin problem that you cannot just smear away. The most common and best tested anti-pigmentation agent is hydroquinone (hydroquinone). In nature it occurs in many plants, but also in coffee, tea, beer and wine.
How Does Hydroquinone Work?
- Hydroquinone ‘depigmented’ the skin, as it were, because less pigment is produced. This is done by slowing down the conversion of tyrosine to melanin. A technical story; I’ll try to explain briefly.
- Pigment or melanin is a brown dye that is produced by the skin under the influence of light. If melanin is evenly produced, you will get an even brown color. If this process is disrupted by, for example, hormones, wounds or acne, pigmentation spots arise.
- Hydroquinone ultimately suppresses melanin production. The skin does not get the chance to create a brown color and to emphasize places where the process is disturbed. It does not whiten the skin, but prevents the development of pigmentation spots (Zoe Draelos, Cosmeceuticals).
Use Hydroquinone with Care
- Always protect yourself from the sun . Otherwise it is mopping with the tap open. The sun ‘stimulates’ the production of melanin, while hydroquinone counteracts it.
- Build up use slowly. Start with once every three days. Is this going well? Then go to every other day and eventually every day. Make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin and if it does, take a step back.
- Preferably apply it in the evening.
- Do not expect immediate results. This will certainly take a few weeks. Do not use hydroquinone indefinitely either, but at least stop after six months.
- In the Netherlands the use of hydroquinone over the counter is prohibited, unlike in America ( RIVM ). You can get it on prescription, through a doctor or dermatologist. Maintains the prescribed concentration. In the Netherlands this will be between 2% and 4%.
Many ghost stories are circulating about this ingredient. It is true that the ingredient can dry out and irritate the skin a bit. Especially in the beginning. But if you build up carefully and use a good moisturizing cream, the irritation is not too bad in practice.
In very rare cases, use of hydroquinone can lead to ochronosis – the darkening and even blackening of spots on the skin, which is difficult to reverse. However, this has only been seen in people who used large amounts of highly concentrated hydroquinone are continued for years.
Furthermore, studies on rats showed that the substance in high doses may be carcinogenic – something that has been refuted in other studies (abstract). There is even a study which describes that hydroquinone may protect against the development of cancer (abstract).
All in all, it has been used and prescribed for decades by leading dermatologists around the world and has been the subject of a great deal of research. That it works is no longer a matter of dispute and if used with care it is an ingredient that I would certainly recommend for the treatment of pigmentation spots.