Skincare Ingredients: Hydroquinone
All to often people forget to look at the actual ingredients, listed in their skin care. They get caught up in the marketed claims brands make and ignore what the products are actually made of. I encourage you to research what your skincare ingredients are, what they do, and if they have any risks associated with them. Here, I will do a brief overview of one common ingredient, hydroquinone.
What is Hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone is an active ingredient that is used to treat depigmentation of melasma-pigmented areas- age spots and scars. It’s available in prescription strength and over the counter solutions, and is used in several well known brand skin care lines such as Obagi, Rodan + Fields, Murad, Claripel, Eldopaque, Esoterica, Glyquin, Lustra, Mequin and Solauin, Clinicians Complex and more. Information about it is also listed at Drugs.com.
What exactly does it do?
Hydroquinone helps lighten hyperpigmentation in skin, which is usually caused by aging results from sun exposure, according to the The Skin Cancer Foundation. Noreen Kassem describes in article for LiveStrong, “Adverse Effects of Hydroquinone” that the “molecular compound hydroquinone works in the dermis layer of the skin by suppressing the action of melanin cells that give skin pigmentation.” This ingredient is a legal “lightening agent” approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, but is banned in Europe and Japan.
Before I go into why the ingredient is banned in Europe and Japan it is important that I let you, the reader know, that I am no a nurse, nor a doctor. I’m not even a dermatologist or skin care expert. I am just describing to you, my experience and research into the ingredient hydroquinone to help you make an educated decision on if this is an ingredient you want in your skincare regimen.
Causes of Skin Pigmentation
My personal experience with hydroquinone began a few months ago. About 6 months ago, I had surgery on my wrist and was left with a pretty dark scar, that I really wanted to get rid of. I searched for options from my surgeon, my family doctor, a med spa and a plastic surgeon. The options were limited, and most them recommended prescription strength, 4% solution of hydroquinone. My scar had dark pigment that was described as hyperpigmentation. I wasn’t looking to get rid of the dept, size, or shape of the scar, just the coloring.
During my search for a solution to the discolored scar on my wrist, I was also informed that hydroquinone could help fade some dark spots or brown spots that had developed on my face. Hyperpigmentation like this can also by cause by UV radiation, sunlight, tanning beds, hormonal changes, aging, skin conditions like acne, and some medications. I purchased a 2% over the counter solution for that, from Rodan + Fields skincare, in a 4 piece skin care set labeled as the “Reverse Regimen.” Both my prescription strength and over the counter Hydroquinone products highly advised to avoid the sun when using their product, and to wear an spf on your skin of 50 SPF or higher.
Risk of Using Hydroquinone
I was then informed during a recent facial, with a licensed Esthetician, that hydroquinone is risky and my not even be safe. After all, it is banned in Europe and Japan. I did a little research, and found an article, “Hydroquinone: Is the Cure Worse Than the Problem?” by Diana Howard, PhD. She asserts that consistent use of hydroquinone may have cancer-causing potential and can even lead to more pigmentation in the skin, the exact opposite effect users are using it for. There are also toxic effects to the body that are a risk listed by Drugs.com.
There are alternative options to look for that take much longer to show results than hydroquinone. These key ingredients include kojic acid, mulberry, licorice root, bearberry and azaleic acid. People looking to lighten their skin can expect even greater results when they pair those listed alternative ingredients with a “hydroxy acid such as lactic acid, glycolic acid or salicyclic acid” according to Kathleen Neves,an Esthetician.
What Choice Did I Make?
For me, I’ve decided to continue a short term, 2 month program using a 4% prescription strength hydroquinone for my wrist scar and a 2% over the counter solution for a few dark spots on my face. I’m going to discontinue using my Rodan + Fields solution all over my face, and just use it as a spot treatment. I have further discussed the risks my health care professionals and have decided that until the FDA provides more information on hydroquinone and cancer, or pulls it from the market, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I will however, use it sparingly, hoping that the old adage, “anything in moderation” is true here as well.
For more information on a prescription skin care line with Hydroquinone, I suggest trying one of the industry leading lines, Obagi. Melissa Gordon, a nurse who owns her own Botox Clinic, sells a full range of the line. Together with her doctor partner, she can prescribe the skin care line to you. For an over the counter version, I suggest Rodan + Fields. You can contact Carin Van Son in Seattle for this line or shop her Dermatologist line by CLICKING HERE.