Hydroquinone is an active ingredient of many prescription-strength lightening, brightening, and bleaching skincare treatments. It can break up pigmentation caused by overexposure to the sun, hormonal imbalances, and scarring — all while preventing further damage.
Find out how to use hydroquinone, what it treats, and where to get it.
What is Hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone is a chemical compound that’s used in skin-lightening topical treatments. It’s popular because it has the unique ability to lighten dark areas of the skin without bleaching areas that don’t have hyperpigmentation or dark spots.
It’s also called tocopheryl acetate and under the following brand names:
Melquin-3 Topical Solution
Melquin HP 4%
Conditions Treated by Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone can treat pretty much any condition related to hyperpigmentation, brown spots, or melasma.
The most common cosmetic skin conditions treated by hydroquinone include:
Age spots/liver spots/sunspots
Acne scars are caused by an overproduction of collagen (the protein that aids in cell reproduction and cell turnover). While hydroquinone can’t smooth raised skin, it can help lighten any scarring — acne or otherwise.
It’s mostly used to correct hyperpigmentation, melasma, freckles, birthmarks, and other dark spots.
What Causes Dark Spots?
Dark spots can be caused by a long list of issues. Yet, most dark spots are caused by sun damage, scarring, and hormonal imbalances.
Sun damage is actually the cause of most skin conditions. The harmful UV rays of the sun can dry out skin and damage collagen. It creates dark spots, freckles, and other dark spots.
Scarring is caused by an overproduction of collagen. Like with acne scarring, any type of scarring can result in a dark, raised area of skin.
Hormonal imbalances often cause dark spots, too. In fact, melasma is so common in pregnant women that it’s nicknamed the mask of pregnancy. Some medications can also lead to hormonal imbalances and subsequent melasma or hyperpigmentation.
What Can’t Hydroquinone Treat?
This ingredient can treat a huge host of issues related to dark spots and hyperpigmentation. What it can’t treat? Any skin condition related to inflammation, infection, or reddening of the skin — such as rosacea.
It also isn’t used to treat acne, crepey skin, or fine lines and wrinkles. It also isn’t used to hydrate or moisturize the skin. That’s why it’s usually used in conjunction with ingredients that can hydrate the skin while smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.
Since this ingredient also may cause irritation, it’s often used with other products or ingredients that calm the skin or counteract some of its known side effects.
Benefits of Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone is used most commonly to lighten skin. Since it simply evens out the skin tone, it doesn’t over-lighten areas of the skin that don’t need lightening. The most common benefits of hydroquinone include:
Lightens dark spots and melasma
Prevents brown spots and sun damage
Breaks up pigment
Evens skin tone
Lightens Dark Spots/Melasma
As a known skin lightener, hydroquinone can break up pigment in the skin and lighten dark spots — including melasma. In fact, it’s considered one of the best ways to lighten skin.
It works by breaking up the melanin in pigmentation that causes brown spots, age spots, freckles, and other dark spots. It can also prevent melanin from forming in the skin, making it a great way to prevent dark spots, too.
Prevents Brown Spots/Sun Damage
Sun damage is one of the most common causes of skin spots, hyperpigmentation, and melasma. In fact, the sun lends its name to the condition, sunspots. The harmful UV rays of the sun can darken the skin over time — and not just by causing a suntan, either.
UV light can increase melanin production in the skin, especially in the face, chest, and hands.
Hydroquinone can help to prevent this damage as well as treat it.
Breaks Up Pigment
Pigment is created by an overproduction of melanin in the skin. These pockets of pigment are exacerbated by sun damage, hormonal imbalances, and scarring.
Hydroquinone can help break up these pockets of pigmentation by lightening dark spots. It can also block the pigmentation process, preventing further melanin production and pigmentation.
Evens Skin Tone
The best part of using this topical treatment is that hydroquinone can actually even out your skin tone — without over brightening or bleaching areas of your skin that are already light. You’ll get an even complexion that isn’t marred by dark areas.
Evening the skin tone can mean you may not need to use foundation, tinted moisturizer, concealer, or other types of makeup used to create a ‘blank canvas’ on the face.
Hydroquinone Side Effects
Hydroquinone may seem like a miracle treatment, but it’s not perfect. This ingredient actually gets a pretty bad rap in some countries, including the UK, Japan, and Australia (where it’s banned).
The good news is that it’s considered safe by the FDA when used in the correct dosage. In fact, there aren’t even any studies that suggest hydroquinone isn’t safe.
Yet, it’s still always important to talk to a doctor before using a new product. It can interact with medications, and some people report allergic reactions when using hydroquinone (especially those who suffer from dry skin).
It’s also important to use the recommended dosage of hydroquinone. This is why we recommend getting a dermatologist’s prescription for it — instead of using an over-the-counter product.
Too much hydroquinone can lead to some adverse side effects, including:
Not enough studies have been done on hydroquinone and pregnancy, so pregnant or breastfeeding women are advised to use this treatment with caution. There’s not enough research to determine if hydroquinone will transfer from mother to baby while breastfeeding, so it’s suggested that moms check with their doctors before starting a skincare regimen.
We also recommend chatting with a licensed dermatologist to get a prescription for hydroquinone. Dermatologists can prescribe just the right amount of active ingredients for your skin type, preventing overuse or side effects.
OTC Vs Prescription Hydroquinone
You can find hydroquinone in both over-the-counter and prescription skincare products. Yet, most doctors recommend getting a prescription from your dermatologist before using it.
OTC products that contain hydroquinone don’t contain personalized amounts of active ingredients. Instead, they’re formulated for every skin type. This means they often contain lower amounts of these ingredients (or sometimes too much of an active ingredient for those with sensitive skin).
Prescription-strength products contain just the right amount of active ingredients for each person’s skin type.
How to Use Hydroquinone
Use hydroquinone on affected areas of the skin — and as directed by a dermatologist. It’s often best to do a test patch of hydroquinone on a small area of your skin before applying it to your face, neck, or chest. Don’t use it on infected areas of the face or body. Always use a gentle cleanser on the area before applying hydroquinone.
Best Hydroquinone Products
Some skincare products contain only hydroquinone as an active ingredient. Yet, many dermatologists believe that it’s best to use this ingredient in conjunction with other active ingredients that complement each other. Most of the best hydroquinone products also contain ingredients that ease irritation and other possible side effects.
Musely’s Spot Treatment
Spot treatments are concentrated formulas that work to break up pigment, clear dark spots, and smooth skin.
Musely’s Spot treatment contains hydroquinone to break up pigmentation, even skin tone, and brighten skin. Yet, it also contains other ingredients that work in conjunction with hydroquinone, including:
Like hydroquinone, this skin bleaching agent breaks up pigmentation and breaks up dark spots. It also hydrates skin and decreases pore size.
Despite its acidic-sounding name, kojic acid cools the skin and prevents irritation. It’s just one ingredient used in products to counteract the side effects of hydroquinone and niacinamide.
Azelaic acid breaks up pigment. Because it’s gentler than hydroquinone and niacinamide, dermatologists often prescribe higher amounts of this active ingredient for people with sensitive skin.
Musely’s Neck and Chest Cream
Musely’s neck and chest cream contains hydroquinone to break up pockets of pigment (specifically on the chest and neck). It also contains ingredients that smooth wrinkled skin while moisturizing each layer of the dermis.
Other active ingredients in Neck and Chest Cream include:
Tretinoin promotes skin cell turnover while boosting collagen production.
Niacinamide brightens skin while hydrating each layer of the dermis and shrinking pores.
Hyaluronic Acid repairs collagen, smooths fine lines and wrinkles, and hydrates skin.
These active ingredients, when used together, can treat skin discoloration without leaving you to deal with harsh side effects.
While hydroquinone can fix skin discoloration, doctors still advise avoiding sun exposure. It’s important to use it in conjunction with lifestyle changes, such as using sunscreen lotion with a high SPF to prevent further discoloration. You should also wear protective clothing, such as long layers and hats.