When can hydroquinone be used to lighten the skin?

“Dark spots, acne scar, dyspigmentation and uneven color are some of the most common concerns I hear about in the dermatology clinic,” says Dr. Miriam Hanson, dermatologist and skin care expert at Sanova Dermatology. “Sure, no one wants wrinkles, but tone and texture can be just as important to any anti-aging and rejuvenation strategy.”

Whether it’s sun spots or freckles, melasma or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, treatments to lighten areas of the skin and provide even color have been around for ages. “Before tanning became a cultural phenomenon, women’s magazine were filled with advertisements for creams to whiten skin,” explains dermatologist Dr. Adam Mamelak, who published these findings as part of a research project on skin cancer and cultural perceptions of beauty in the American Journal of Public Health in 2009.

“By far, one of the most common treatments for hyperpigmentation of the skin is hydroquinone,” says Dr. Hanson.  Hydroquinone is an FDA approved agent that usually comes as a topical preparation and works by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase that is used in the production of melanin. Melanin is the tinting component that gives the skin its color. By decreasing the production and increasing the breakdown of this compound, skin lightening can be achieved.

Hydroquinone comes in a variety of preparations, including creams lotions and even in chemical peels. Often hydroquinone is found in combination with other skin lightening agents such as retinol, alpha hydroxy acids, topical steroids, and others. Over the counter and prescription preparations are available. Although skin sensitivity can occur, these products are usually well tolerated and considered safe. Noticeable improvement can be seen within weeks of using these treatments.

Just remember, some dark spots on the skin or skin lesions that change color can also be a sign of skin cancer. If you have a suspicious spot on your skin, talk to you dermatologist before beginning any treatment.

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