Pigmentation & Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a chemical found in many cream treatments for pigmentation problems. It is used to whiten the skin as a treatment of hyper-pigmentation. Hydroquinone is used as a treatment for darkened skin areas such as freckles, age spots, brown spots and melasma. It is also used by people with darker skin types to lighten the skin. Hydroquinone works by decreasing the production of melanin pigment in the skin cells. While hydroquinone is an effective lightening agent, it is also potentially harmful. The use of hydroquinone is banned in some countries, including South Africa, Japan and the member states of the European Union. In 2006 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked its previous approval of hydroquinone, proposing to ban all over the counter preparations containing the chemical. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has also highlighted concerns. Potential side effects of the use of hydroquinone include exogenous ochronosis, in which blue-black pigmentation occurs to the skin. It may also be carcinogenic and may cause cancer athought this is not confirmed. Hydroquinone can cause skin sensitivity and can thin the skin.

In the United States, topical treatments usually contain up to 2% hydroquinone. If you choose to apply an over-the-counter bleaching cream containing hydroquinone to your pigmentation problem areas, ensure you use it only as directed. Otherwise, higher concentrations (up to 4%) should be prescribed and used with caution. Bleaching creams with a higher percentage of hydroquinone such as Glyquin, Lustra and Melanex are available in the USA with a prescription. However, some physicians do not recommend hydroquinone products to their patients. Some creams on the online market can contain 6% hydroquinone.

Be very cautious when using hydroquinone, as the condition of hypo-pigmentation –the loss of color the affected area – that can result from the use of this chemical can be more disfiguring and even harder to treat than hyper-pigmentation. Creams containing hydroquinone in any percentage should be tried on a small patch of skin first to see how it interacts with the skin. Hydroquinone is sometimes combined with alpha hydroxy acids that exfoliate the skin to quicken the lightening process. Products often contain sunblock to minimize sun exposure as well. Despite concerns for the safety of hydroquinone in the use of pigmentation disorders, recent clinical studies have found that using a hydroquinone based cream alongside a broad spectrum SPF sunblock daily can be a very effective, non-irritating method for effectively treating pigmentation disorders. However, the uncertainty as to the safety of hydroquinone has prompted an exploration of the use of other ingredients in skin lightening creams. Companies are now investing in research and development of new products that even pigmentation without the use of hydroquinone.

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