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.