What is Hydroquinone? (2023)

Hyperpigmentation, acne scars, and dark spots are pesky skin issues many people fight against. While your best line of defense against hyperpigmentation is a good skincare routine, sometimes you simply need more. What more is a topical skin treatment found over the counter and prescribed by dermatologists in higher concentrations called hydroquinone.

What is hydroquinone and why is there such controversy surrounding it? Read on and let The Skin Spot give you all the information you need!

What is Hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is found in a variety of topical skin treatments, from face moisturizers to cleansers to skin-lightening creams. It’s often used in combination with other products to help improve the complexion and treat a condition called melasma.

Melasma is a common condition with the skin that results in discolored, dark spots, or patches. It’s more common in women than in men and most often occurs on the forehead, cheeks, chin, and bridge of the nose, though it can happen anywhere on the body.

Why people develop melasma isn’t clear, but it may be associated with hormones, thyroid disease, and even stress. Sun exposure can also cause this condition since UV rays can have an adverse effect on the skin cells that control pigmentation.

Hydroquinone is used to treat these dark spots. It lightens the skin in order to get rid of the discoloration. It blocks an enzyme in the pigment-producing pathway of the body and is one of the most effective treatments for dark spots you can find on the market today.

(Video) What Is Hydroquinone?

What is Hydroquinone? (1)

Does Hydroquinone Bleach Skin?

You may think that hydroquinone works by bleaching the skin, but that’s not how it works at all. When used in a safe concentration, it actually evens out the skin tone by limiting the excess melatonin created by the skin cells. So, it works on a cellular level causing the dark spots to slowly fade – not by bleaching skin. Still, using it for long periods of time may not be recommended for safety reasons.

Is Hydroquinone Safe?

If hydroquinone is so effective, then you may wonder why there’s some controversy surrounding its use. The truth is that hydroquinone has been banned in some countries, including countries in the European Union because it was found to have adverse side effects. These include irritation of the skin, altered immune system function, and even certain types of cancers in some controlled animal experiments.

It’s important to note that in the United States, hydroquinone is available in over the counter products in concentrations up to two percent and you can get higher concentrations by prescription. The Food and Drug Administration has concerns about its safety in long term use, but it’s generally considered effective and safe in the short-term.

When Should You Use Hydroquinone?

The entire purpose of using hydroquinone is to lighten dark spots on the skin. So, if you struggle with dark spots on your skin, then it’s a product you should think about including in your skincare regimen. Simply be aware that it’s a product that should be used in conjunction with sun protection (like, obsessive sun protection!) and that it must be used for a period of time before you see results.

Using Hydroquinone Safely

The key to getting the most out of your hydroquinone products safely is to use them for only three or four months at a time. You will need to give your skin a break for at least two months in between. If in those two months you notice that the hyperpigmentation, you’re targeting is still an issue, then you can use the product again for another three to four-month period.

(Video) Is hydroquinone safe? Q&A with a dermatologist| Dr Dray

What Are the Side Effects of Hydroquinone?

Some people that use hydroquinone report temporary and minor skin irritations such as reddening, stinging, and itching. Some people also report cracking, dry skin, and bleeding as well as blisters or oozing. You may even experience a darkening of the skin. It’s recommended if you experience these side effects and they do not go away that you discontinue use of the product.

Does Hydroquinone Permanently Remove Hyperpigmentation?

The effect of using hydroquinone to reduce hyperpigmentation and dark spots is temporary. After you discontinue using it, then the dark spots can return as the skin begins to renew its production of pigment.

Want to Give Hydroquinone a Try?

If you want to try out hydroquinone for hyperpigmentation, then The Skin Spot proudly offers Illuminate. This product is tailored to suit your needs in concentrations of 4 percent, 6 percent, or 8 percent, depending on your specific needs and the body part you are trying to treat. It is available in-office and is mixed on-site to the appropriate strength to fit your needs.

Alternatives to Hydroquinone

If you’re not entirely sold on the idea of using hydroquinone, there are effective alternatives available to it. In fact, at The Skin Spot, you can find these alternative treatments:

NazarianSkin Pigment Correct

From NazarianSkin comes NazarianSkinPigment Correct– a combination of botanicals and natural skin brighteners that can help to target hyperpigmentation. It is a hydroquinone free formula that uses arbutin, extracted naturally from the bearberry plant, to treat discoloration, and brighten the skin by preventing the formation of melanin.


SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum

Lytera is a pigment-correcting serum from SkinMedica that was formulated specifically to visibly correct hyperpigmentation of the skin. It contains no hydroquinone, retinol, or parabens. It’s also non-comedogenic and free from fragrance, making it a great choice for skin that may be sensitive or prone to blemishes.


Manufactured by Sente, Cyspera uses cysteamine to correct hyperpigmentation by inhibiting melanin production to lighten the skin. It’s an incredibly potent product but is free from hydroquinone and retinol, which means it’s safe for all skin types. In studies, it has been shown to be as effective as hydroquinone.

Dr. Nazarian’s current regimen as an alternative to hydroquinone is the use of Cyspera and Pigment correct together.

More Products to Try

If you want some additional products to help keep your skin healthy as you tackle hyperpigmentation and dark spots, then you should consider adding these products to your skincare routine:

(Video) Dermatology & Skin Diseases : What Is Hydroquinone?

NazarianSkin Glycolic Pads

If you’re looking for a product for skin maintenance, then NazarianSkin Glycolic Pads need to be your go-to. These are the perfect product for those of you who are always on the go to help exfoliate, cleanse, and hydrate your skin throughout the day. Throw them in your gym bag, backpack, or purse to use as you need to keep your skin healthy and fresh.

NazarianSkin Triple AntiOx

Maintain your skin’s important moisture barrier as you keep fine lines, wrinkles, and redness at bay. NazarianSkin Triple AntiOx is specifically formulated to help address skin issues that can sneak up on us as we get older, such as large pores, as it stimulates your skin with natural green tea extracts and caffeine.

Revision Skincare Retinol Complete

Everyone needs a facial serum they can count on to smooth and brighten skin as it works to hydrate – and you can find that with Revision Skincare Retinol Complete. Botanical extracts combat dryness as Retinol works to improve the appearance of your skin. A great choice for any skin type.

(Video) Hydroquinone for hyperpigmentation - is it safe? | Ask Doctor Anne

You Can Trust The Skin Spot

If you struggle with melasma or hyperpigmentation and dark spots, then The Skin Spot has the quality products you need to address it. Whether that involves hydroquinone or not, we offer products we have full confidence in to address your concerns and produce the smooth, flawless skin you’ve always wanted.


What does hydroquinone do to the skin? ›

Hydroquinone bleaches your skin by decreasing the number of melanocytes present. Melanocytes make melanin, which is what produces your skin tone. In cases of hyperpigmentation, more melanin is present due to an increase in melanocyte production.

What is hydroquinone used for? ›

Hydroquinone cream is the standard depigmentation or skin lightening agent. Clinically it is used to treat areas of dyschromia, such as in melasma, chloasma, solar lentigines, freckles, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Is hydroquinone good for face? ›

Hydroquinone is a chemical that a person can use to lighten their skin tone. It is available as a cream, gel, lotion, or emulsion. Hydroquinone is generally safe to use, but some people may experience side effects, such as dry skin.

What are the negative effects of hydroquinone? ›

Incidence not known
  • Blistering, crusting, or flaking of the skin.
  • burning and itching of the skin with pinhead-sized red blisters.
  • lightening of normal skin color.
  • redness and scaling around the mouth.
  • severe redness, soreness, or scaling of the skin.
  • thinning of the skin with easy bruising.
1 Nov 2022

Do dermatologists recommend hydroquinone? ›

Hydroquinone is considered the topical gold standard in dermatology for reducing hyperpigmentation.” Dermatologists often use hydroquinone to treat melasma, a skin condition where dark patches appear on the forehead, cheeks and upper lip.

Does hydroquinone lighten skin permanently? ›

Does hydroquinone lighten skin permanently? No, the results of any skin lightening that hydroquinone brings about are not permanent. The effects can be seen within a couple of months or a few years at the maximum.

Who should avoid hydroquinone? ›

Do not use hydroquinone topical on open wounds or on sunburned, windburned, dry, chapped, or irritated skin. Call your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after 2 months, or if your condition gets worse.

Is hydroquinone skin bleach? ›

Hydroquinone is a topical skin-bleaching agent used in the cosmetic treatment of hyperpigmented skin conditions. The effect of skin lightening caused by hydroquinone is reversible when exposed to sunlight and therefore requires regular use until desired results are achieved.

When should you avoid hydroquinone? ›

Possible side effects include skin irritation, redness, dryness, and contact dermatitis when first using hydroquinone. If these adverse effects persist, discontinue using hydroquinone. Avoid hydroquinone if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

What not to mix with hydroquinone? ›

Chan both agree hydroquinone does not play well with benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or other peroxide products. Not only will pairing them cause irritation and dryness, but it can also temporarily stain your skin.

Does hydroquinone make you look younger? ›

Fade Age Spots With Hydroquinone

It interferes with the skin's production of melanin, the pigment that gives age spots their color. Hydroquinone is available over the counter or in stronger concentrations by prescription.

What can I use instead of hydroquinone? ›

Mequinol (4-Hydroxyanisole)

Mequinol is the main alternative prescription alternative to hydroquinone. It's also known as methoxyphenol, hydroquinone monomethyl ether, and p-hydroxyanisole.

Why did the FDA ban hydroquinone? ›

The FDA has received reports of serious side effects from the use of hydroquinone, including rashes, facial swelling, and permanent skin discoloration (ochronosis).

Is hydroquinone cancerous? ›

FRIDAY, May 27, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Hydroquinone use increases the risk for both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers by more than threefold, according to a study presented at the Society for Investigative Dermatology Annual Meeting, held May 18 to 21 in Portland, Oregon.

Why is hydroquinone banned in some countries? ›

The issue with hydroquinone in other countries is not hydroquinone itself. It is that it is often contaminated in mercury when prepared overseas. Mercury is toxic to the kidneys and nervous system and can cause problems with brain development in unborn children.

What brand of hydroquinone is best? ›

9 Best Hydroquinone Creams
  1. Best Lightweight: AMBI Fade Cream. ...
  2. Best For Sensitive Skin: Alpha Skin Care Dual Action Skin Lightener. ...
  3. Best Nourishing: M&M Beauty Age Spot Remover. ...
  4. Best Dermatologically Tested: Cicatricure Medical Lightening Cream. ...
  5. Best For Natural-Looking Glow: Fair & White Creme Exclusive Whitener.
2 Sept 2022

How quickly does hydroquinone work? ›

When using hydroquinone, patients should not expect to see drastic results right away. It can take approximately 4-6 weeks of daily (or even twice daily) hydroquinone application before dark spots will begin to fade. After 8-12 weeks, optimal results should appear and overall skin tone will become more even.

Can hydroquinone make dark spots worse? ›

Hydroquinone may cause local skin irritation, however, and thereby leading to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, making the skin pigmentation worse.

How can I lighten my skin without using hydroquinone? ›

Experts Reveal 7 Ways to Lighten Discoloration Without Using Hydroquinone
  1. 1 / 7. Vitamin C. Vitamin C is one of those beauty ingredients that packs a whole lot of punch. ...
  2. 2 / 7. Peels. ...
  3. 3 / 7. Acids. ...
  4. 4 / 7. Retinol and retinoids. ...
  5. 5 / 7. Arbutin. ...
  6. 6 / 7. Niacinamide. ...
  7. 7 / 7. Licorice extract.
8 Feb 2017

How can I lighten my dark skin without hydroquinone? ›

The Best Skin Lightening Creams Without Hydroquinone.
  1. Medik8 C-Tetra Cream. ...
  2. Antipodes Manuka Honey Skin Brightening Day Cream. ...
  3. Dermalogica BioLumin-C Gel Moisturiser. ...
  4. Murad Environmental Shield City-Skin Overnight Detox Moisturiser. ...
  5. SK-II Cellumination Deep Surge EX. ...
  6. Laneige Radian C Cream.
8 Nov 2022

How long can you be on hydroquinone? ›

Hydroquinone, a tyrosinase inhibitor, in a 4% cream can be used safely twice daily for up to 6 months to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Does hydroquinone remove dark spots? ›

Hydroquinone is used to lighten the dark patches of skin (also called hyperpigmentation, melasma, "liver spots," "age spots," freckles) caused by pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone medicine, or injury to the skin. This medicine works by blocking the process in the skin that leads to discoloration.

Why did Europe ban hydroquinone? ›

Hydroquinone. A possible carcinogen, this ingredient is banned in concentrations higher than 1% in the EU. It has most commonly led to photosensitivity, which means your skin is ultra-sensitive to the sun, among other skin conditions.

Can hydroquinone be bought over-the-counter? ›

Is hydroquinone topical available over the counter? Hydroquinone topical used to be available over the counter (OTC). But as a result of the 2020 CARES Act, it's only available by prescription from your provider.

Does hydroquinone lighten all skin or just dark spots? ›

Christopher Zoumalan, a Beverly Hills-based, board-certified cosmetic surgeon. By halting the skin's production of melanin, hydroquinone prevents existing dark spots from getting darker and causes them to gradually fade. Hydroquinone does not permanently lighten skin.

How long does hydroquinone take to lighten dark spots? ›

Hydroquinone's lightening effects are generally visible after 4 weeks of treatment, though some conditions may require a longer treatment plan. If no visible changes occur after 3 months of treatment, you should stop using hydroquinone and consult with your dermatologist about alternative treatment options.

Does hydroquinone thin your skin? ›

Answer: Retin A and hydroquinone do not thin the skin.

Studies have shown that Retin A (tretinoin) cream can stimulate collagen to thicken the skin. Hydroquinone does not thin the skin. Cortisone creams can thin the skin if used long-term.

Does hyperpigmentation come back after hydroquinone? ›

Hydroquinone is an inflammatory agent that can become allergenic after 5 months of use. Hydroquinone-induced inflammation can cause rebound hyperpigmentation and reduced tolerance to hydroquinone itself.

How do you apply hydroquinone to your face? ›

Apply the hydroquinone product in a small, thin layer, targeting only the areas of your skin that you wish to lighten. This may change depending on what your dermatologist recommends but most hydroquinone products are suitable for use once or twice daily.

Can you wear makeup while using hydroquinone? ›

Wait for the cream to fully dry before applying makeup, moisturizer, sunscreen or any other topical products. Take care when applying hydroquinone cream near the eyes, nostrils and mouth. If your melasma-affected skin is close to these areas, consider using a cotton swab to apply the cream more precisely.

How can I look 20 years younger naturally? ›

Wear less makeup

Instead of heavy makeup, pick radiant hues that mimic the look of natural youth, says makeup artist and What Not to Wear star Carmindy. “As we age our skin loosens and is not as taut as it once was, so the more makeup you apply, the more it can move, settle, and travel,” she says.

What makes a woman look younger naturally? ›

A skincare routine can bring a big impact on the skin and make a woman look younger naturally. Facial massage improves blood circulation and improves skin elasticity. Daily massage is a part of the skincare routine. Including Vitamin C-rich fruits, vegetables and supplements improve collagen production.

Which foods contain hydroquinone? ›

A previous study reported that hydroquinone was present not only in coffee, but also in tea, red wine, wheat, and fruits.

What is a natural hydroquinone? ›

Arbutin. Arbutin is the natural derivative of hydroquinone. It is extracted from plants such as bearberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Arbutin works similarly to kojic acid by interfering with the tyrosinase activity to suppress melanin production.

What happens if you use hydroquinone long term? ›

Long-term effects are a possibility; cancer being the most likely. Renal adenomas and leukaemia occurred in animal experiments indicating the nephrotoxicity and carcinogenic properties of the substance. It is now known how hydroquinone and its metabolites can cause damage to DNA and inhibit apoptosis of mutated cells.

Is hydroquinone a steroid? ›

Fluocinolone is a corticosteroid (steroid medicine), hydroquinone is a bleaching agent, and tretinoin is a retinoid (related to vitamin A). This medicine is available only with your doctor's prescription. This product is available in the following dosage forms: Cream.

Does hydroquinone cause hair loss? ›

Answer: Hydroquinone and hair loss

At normal dosing regimens of topical hydrquinone, hair loss wiuld be extremely uncommon. Individuals with allergic or toxic responses however could experience hair loss. Most individuals however do not. Please see a dermatologist for careful review in your specific situation.

How long does it take to see results from hydroquinone? ›

When using hydroquinone, patients should not expect to see drastic results right away. It can take approximately 4-6 weeks of daily (or even twice daily) hydroquinone application before dark spots will begin to fade. After 8-12 weeks, optimal results should appear and overall skin tone will become more even.

Does hydroquinone make skin worse? ›

Hydroquinone may cause local skin irritation, however, and thereby leading to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, making the skin pigmentation worse.

Can you put moisturizer over hydroquinone? ›

Apply hydroquinone twice a day.

You can apply hydroquinone in the morning and evening. Let it sink into the skin before applying other products, such as moisturizer, and wash your hands after using hydroquinone, so it does not bleach your fingers. 4.

Will hydroquinone fade age spots? ›

Age spot treatments include: Medications. Applying prescription bleaching creams (hydroquinone) alone or with retinoids (tretinoin) and a mild steroid might gradually fade the spots over several months. The treatments might cause temporary itching, redness, burning or dryness.

Why my skin is dark after using hydroquinone? ›

In fact, the darkening of the skin from using Hydroquinone can occur because this compound can't really get rid of it, it only inhibits the production of melanin pigment in the skin. When melanocytes die, their accumulation on the skin is inevitable (like any other dead skin cells).

How long should you use hydroquinone? ›

To avoid such problems, I recommend that after no more than five months of hydroquinone application, all patients should cease using this drug for two to three months.

How often should you take a break from hydroquinone? ›

Usage Recommendations. Hydroquinone can be used twice daily for up to five months consecutively. After five months, melanocytes should be allowed to stabilize during a two to three month break from hydroquinone.

What is a natural alternative to hydroquinone? ›

Other safe, natural alternatives to hydroquinone include brightening ingredients like kojic acid, vitamin C, mushroom, licorice/glycyrrhizin, azelaic acid, and niacinamide (vitamin B3).

What is the best alternative to hydroquinone? ›

Mequinol (4-Hydroxyanisole)

Mequinol is the main alternative prescription alternative to hydroquinone. It's also known as methoxyphenol, hydroquinone monomethyl ether, and p-hydroxyanisole.


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