Hydroquinone- How Long Can I Use It? by Deb Chase

Hydroquinone for  hyperpigmentationQuestion: My doctor gave me a prescription for hydroquinone ( 4%) cream.  Its helping control my post pregnancy dark splotches, but I’ve heard bad things about  it.  How long can I safely use it?

Answer:  Hydroquinone is one of those medications that we love to hate.  It has been around for decades and is actually  the ONLY ingredient that has been approved by the  FDA for skin lightening.  According to Mount Sinai dermatologist  Dr Gary Goldenberg, you can safely use  hydroquinone for  up to three months at a time. Even if its working, you need to take a three month drug holiday after the initial treatment.  If you want to return to this popular skin lightener, you’re back to a three month on and three month off schedule. However if  it hasn’t worked in the first three months, its probably  never  going to help your skin and its time to try something else.

How Does Hydroquinone Work?

Hydroquinone blocks production of melanin by blocking the production of an enzyme that is necessary for  the production of the   dark pigment. It does not  break down existing pigment but prevents new melanin from forming.  During the three month treatment period the existing darkened skin  cells  are  shed naturally  and the hydroquinone prevents new melanin from developing  in the fresh new  skin cells.

Getting the Best Results From Hydroquinone

Before starting hydoquinone  treatment, its important to know  how your skin will react to treatment.  To find out if your skin is sensitive, dab a small amount on the inner surface of your forearm. If no itching or redness develops in 24 hours then you are good to go.  To speed up the benefits,  some experts recommend using a gylcolic cleanser or mositurizer to  help  speed up turnover  of  pigmented skin cells.

You can find 2% Hydroquinone gel/cream on drug store  shelves, but the 4% concentration is  available only  by prescription.  Your doctor can also prescribe  hydroquinone that is combined with other skin brighteners.  For example Glyquin contains 4% hydroquinone with 10% glycolic acid.  Triluma is a triple threat  skin lightener with hydroquinone to stop melanin production, Retin A to speed up cell turnover and  a mild steroid to keeps thing calm.

Problems with Hydroquinone

There is a dark side to hydroquinone ( no pun intended).  Dr Goldenberg warns that prolonged use  has been associated with  the development of blue-black pigmentation (called ochronosis) that is  very hard to manage.  This is usually seen in Africa and might be due to the presence of other ingredients in the  local skin lightening  forumlations  such as phenol and mercury.  There are also reports of cancer appearing in animals  treated with hydroquinone, but  no studies have show this connection in humans.

One final thought:  You MUST apply a 30-50 SPF sun screen when using hydroquinone.  This ingredients acts by blocking new melanin production and if the skin is constantly exposed to new UV rays,  there will be no improvement.   Skin  cells have long memories,  and  just  one unprotected sun filled  day can trigger new melanin production and more pigmentation. Trust me  this does happen.  I undid   three months of Triluma treatment with a morning on the beach.

5 thoughts on “Hydroquinone- How Long Can I Use It? by Deb Chase

  1. Hello I hope you are well, I have very pigmented areas on my face. Around my eyes are very black, my chin is slightly lighter but still dark and my nose and cheeks are a yellowish, light brown color. Without makeup I look very foolish as you can imagine. I have started using a 5% hydro quinine based cream. I have been using it for 5 days now only on the skin around my eyes and I feel a a slight burning feel, my skin has also become very dry, more wrinkly and is peeling slightly. I am so desperate to make my skin tone more even particularly under my eyes. Shall I continue to use hydroquinone or should o discontinue. If so what other recommendations do you have for me. Thanks so much for taking your time to read this, I appreciate it a lot.

    • To help you I need a little more information about your natural skin tone. If you skin is pale, you can continue using hydroquinone every other day. If irritation continues, I would stop using it. If yo have a darker skin color, I am concerned that these signs of irritation can actually trigger more patches of irregular pigmentation. In this case, I would stop using it entirely.

    • Stop using it immediately and apply mild cortisone cream to irritated areas. You can buy the cortisone cream at drug store without a prescription.

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