October 16, 2021 What Are The Biggest Benefits Of Hydroquinone For Your Skin?
You may have come across hydroquinone in your search for a skincare solution for hyperpigmentation, but been unsure if it is the right choice for your skin. Read on to learn about the benefits of hydroquinone.
What is hydroquinone, and how does it work?
Hydroquinone is a topical lightening agent which is considered the “gold standard” treatment worldwide to treat spots of epidermal discoloration due to melasma and other hyperpigmentation conditions (Bandyopadhyay). It discourages the production of melanocytes, which produce melanin (a biological pigment) to protect skin from UV light. Hydroquinone creams often contain other ingredients, like steroids and retinoids, to increase efficacy and prevent skin irritation.
What conditions does hydroquinone treat?
Hydroquinone creams are commonly used to treat conditions including:
- Freckles, lentigines, and melasma
- Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, ie from acne
- Drug-induced pigmentation resulting from chemotherapy
- Inflamed hair follicles of the beard (folliculitis barbae)
- Poikiloderma of Civatte
- As a pretreatment for laser therapy or chemical peels
It is important to note that hydroquinone is specifically intended to treat dark spots and should NOT be used as an all-over skin lightener. Using too much hydroquinone for too long can lead to a rare condition called ochronosis, which causes a blue-black pigmentation of the skin that is difficult to treat (Faridi).
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What are the benefits of hydroquinone? Is it really effective?
Studies indicate that hydroquinone combination therapies significantly decrease lesion size, pigmentation, and disease severity in those with postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (Davis). Over a 3 month treatment period, 70% of melasma patients experience reduced or cleared pigmentation. Another study indicates that 90% of participants in a hydroquinone study no longer felt the need to hide their skin discoloration after a 12-week hydroquinone treatment plan (Grimes).
Most common side effects of hydroquinone include mild skin irritation, swelling or tenderness of the affected area, and UV light sensitivity. While doctors may advise longer treatment periods in certain situations, typically hydroquinone application should stop if no improvement is seen after 3 months.
- Bandyopadhyay D. Topical treatment of melasma. Indian J Dermatol. 2009;54(4):303-309. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.57602
- Davis EC, Callender VD. Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of color. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(7):20-31.
- Faridi W, Dhamoon AS. Ochronosis. [Updated 2021 Aug 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560534/
- Grimes P, Watson J. Treating epidermal melasma with a 4% hydroquinone skin care system plus tretinoin cream 0.025%. Cutis. 2013;91(1):47-54.
About the author
Brandon Kirsch, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in clinical drug development and medical innovation. He is the founder of Kirsch Dermatology in Naples, Florida and is also the Chief of Dermatology at the ...