Can Hydroquinone And Retinols Be Used Together?

Can Hydroquinone And Retinols Be Used Together?

As you look for skincare solutions, you may have heard that hydroquinone can only be safely combined with certain treatments. Can hydroquinone and retinols be used together? Read on to learn more!

Can hydroquinone and retinols safely be combined?

Hydroquinone is a topical skin lightening agent that is available by prescription only. It works by decreasing the production and encouraging the breakdown of melanocytes, which produce melanin to protect the skin from UV damage. Reducing the production of melanin helps lighten dark spots on the skin.

Retinols are skin-safe retinoids – derivatives of Vitamin A. They are used to treat pigmentation, acne, and reduce signs of aging and sun damage. They work by promoting the production of new skin cells, resulting in skin lightening and anti-inflammatory properties.

Examples of retinoids frequently found in skincare products include:

  • Tretinoin is a natural, first-generation retinoid found in many hydroquinone combination therapies in concentrations of up to 1%. Tretinoin-hydroquinone combination treatments often include a steroid to help combat irritation, as tretinoin is the most irritating topical retinoid.
  • Adapalene is a synthetic, third-generation retinoid found in skincare treatments in concentrations of up to .3%. It is known as the least irritating topical retinoid.
  • Tazarotene is a synthetic, third-generation retinoid found in skincare treatments in concentrations of up to .1%. Like adapalene, it has proven to be a safe and effective treatment for postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (Davis).

Hydroquinone and retinols work well together because retinols help hydroquinone penetrate deeper into the skin to work more effectively. Retinols can also protect hydroquinone from oxidation, which can cause it to degrade.

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How can I get hydroquinone and retinol treatments?

As of September 2020, hydroquinone is no longer available without a prescription in the U.S. This was done in part to combat misuse of hydroquinone as an all-over skin-lightening treatment, which can lead to skin damage and treatment-resistant conditions like ochronosis.

While topical medications may seem less risky than oral options, using them incorrectly may result in new symptoms that may impact you more than the issue you were trying to address. For example, you may also be allergic to hydroquinone or one of the inactive ingredients present in many combination therapies.

Only a healthcare expert specializing in skincare can safely assess your skin care needs and prescribe a treatment plan.

Brandon Kirsch

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 Naples Community Hospital. Kirsch Dermatology Website Dr. Kirsch started his career as a lawyer and holds law degrees from the University of Western Ontario (LL.B.) and Georgetown (LL.M. Securities and Financial Regulation). Dr. Kirsch completed his pre-medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, medical school at Brown University, internship at the Mayo Clinic (Florida) and dermatology residency at the University of North Carolina. In partnership with the Mayo Clinic, he filed to patent a novel topical composition for the treatment of skin hyperpigmentation that he co-developed and also oversaw a successful pilot study of the formulation. Dr. Kirsch has experience with therapeutic drug development programs from pre-clinical to Phase 3 studies. He is licensed to practice medicine in California, Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina and law in New York and Ontario.

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