Hydroquinone: What to Know About this Controversial Skincare Ingredient
Hydroquinone is one of the most controversial skincare ingredients out there. It’s proven to be extremely effective at lightening skin, particularly dark spots and uneven skin tone, but some experts say to stay away from it. So what should we do? Here’s what you need to know.
Hydroquinone is effective because it helps prevent the skin from creating excess melanin (skin pigment) which shows up as dark spots. Since hydroquinone stops this excess, existing dark spots start to fade.
The reason why hydroquinone got a bad reputation is pretty unfair. According to Paula’s Choice, it was first banned in South Africa a long time ago due to unsavory side effects. But, it was discovered that the products in question also contained illegal contaminants like mercury and glucocorticoids. The damage to hydroquinone’s reputation was done though, and the European Union also banned it shortly after.
In fact, when formulated properly, there’s ample research that hydroquinone is safe and effective. “There isn’t any real evidence that suggest hydroquinone to be harmful,” says Redondo Beach, CA dermatologist Annie Chiu, MD.
That said, you should still proceed with caution if you choose to use it. “Hydroquinone is very effective,” says cosmetic formulator Annalisa Branca. “However, it can be misused. For this reason, I’m not a huge fan. It should be always used under the guidance of a physician for finite periods of time.”
How long can you use it for? Manhattan Beach, CA dermatologist Nina Desai, MD says eight to twelve weeks. Dr. Desai also adds, “Its effects are not permanent and hyperpigmentation may return.”
Those with darker skin tones should take extra precaution when using hydroquinone. It can cause hypopigmentation (lighter patches of skin) or a “halo” effect around the dark spots you were trying to lighten. And all skin tones can experience darkening of the skin if it’s misused.
The verdict? Hydroquinone is a great product for dark spots if it’s used correctly, but we recommend you talk to your dermatologist before using it.