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Decoding Hydroquinone: Addressing Hyperpigmentation Head On

December 15, 2023
6 min read
Decoding Hydroquinone: Addressing Hyperpigmentation Head On

Hyperpigmentation - also known as dark spots or uneven skin tone - is a common skin concern around the world. In the UK in particular, research shows that around 43% of women are fed up with pigmentation irregularities.  

The good news, however, is that hyperpigmentation isn’t something to worry about. And although the appearance of dark patches can cause upset and/or annoyance, it is a purely cosmetic concern and poses no risk to your health. That doesn’t mean we’re simply happy to put up with it though - and that’s where skin lightening ingredients such as Hydroquinone come into the fore.

Why Does Hyperpigmentation Happen?

Hyperpigmentation can appear as a result of a number of factors. Many women find that they develop melasma or ‘the mask of pregnancy’ when they are pregnant. This is due to changes in hormones. For most women, this change in skin pigmentation fades once they have given birth.

Hyperpigmentation can also be due to overexposure to the sun. This is the most common reason why hyperpigmentation occurs as it is well documented that the sun is responsible for triggering melanin production.

Other factors behind the appearance of hyperpigmentation include -

  • Hormones
  • Skin inflammation
  • The ageing process
  • Injury to the skin

What is Hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is a chemical that can be used topically on skin to lighten dark spots or areas of uneven skin tone. It is a powerful ingredient that has been used in skin bleaching creams for decades. It works by targeting your skin’s melanocytes. These melanocytes are the skin cells responsible for making melanin - the pigment that determines your skin tone. If you’re experiencing hyperpigmentation it means you have an overproduction of your melanocytes.

Hydroquinone Benefits

Hydroquinone Benefits

If you’re looking for a product that targets skin pigmentation irregularities, then hydroquinone cream for melasma is a powerful option. Hydroquinone is beneficial for a range of hyperpigmentation concerns including -  

  • Melasma
  • Acne scarring
  • Age spots
  • Freckles
  • Post-inflammatory blemishes caused by conditions such as eczema and psoriasis

Hydroquinone can’t help fade active inflammation from acne for instance.

Is Hydroquinone Safe?

When used correctly, hydroquinone for hyperpigmentation is considered safe. However, it is not possible to buy hydroquinone uk products off-the-shelf as it is only available on prescription in the UK. This has been the case since 2001 when products containing hydroquinone were banned in the UK and across the rest of Europe. The ban is in place due to the strength of hydroquinone and the fact that it can cause serious damage to the skin when used incorrectly.

Prescription-grade products contain the correct concentration of hydroquinone and are therefore considered safe. In fact, the British Skin Foundation states that -

“Hydroquinone based agents can be used safely under the supervision of a consultant dermatologist to treat areas of patchy pigmentation with good results.”

At MiQuest, we prescribe hydroquinone for melasma and other pigmentation concerns and our clients have enjoyed great results. Take a look at our before and after pictures of Surinder here and see the difference in her skin tone thanks to our tailored hyperpigmentation skincare routine.  

Hydroquinone Side Effects

You may have heard or read scare stories about the possible side effects of hydroquinone but when used at the correct concentration, it is generally well tolerated by most skin types. If you have dry or very sensitive skin you may find this ingredient heightens your skin’s dryness or sensitivity when you first start using it. However, as your skin gets used to the new ingredient, any minor irritation should subside.

Possible side effects include -  

  • Skin irritation
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Stinging sensation
  • Dry skin
  • Redness
  • Very rarely - ochronosis - a blue-black or grey-blue discolouration of the skin. This is rare and is more common in people who have used too high a concentration of hydroquinone over a lengthy time period and over a large body area

Expert Insights

If you’re keen to include hydroquinone in your skincare routine because you want to address hyperpigmentation, then it’s wise to err on the side of caution. Hydroquinone is a powerful chemical and that’s why it’s only available on prescription in concentrations that are low yet effective. When using hydroquinone -  

  1. Don’t use it for too long. We will advise you how long you can use it for when you start your new MiQuest skincare regime. But in general, you should pause use at around the three-month mark when you should have seen a good improvement in your pigmentation concerns
  1. Wear a high-factor SPF every single day. We’re talking SPF 50 ideally
  1. Hydroquinone is not ok if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding
  1. Use as prescribed and don’t add extra products into your skincare routine. In particular, you need to avoid peroxide products
  1. Keep in regular contact with your dermatologist - at MiQuest we’re always on hand to keep track of how your skin is responding to treatment  

How to Add Hydroquinone to Your Skincare Routine

Adding hydroquinone into your skincare routine is a cinch when you choose MiQuest. That’s because we’ve developed a skincare system that’s as simple and straightforward as it gets. There’s no second-guessing with our three-step morning and evening programme. What’s more, all your active ingredients are packed into your Q-Stick which you apply in the evening - when your skin is most susceptible to soaking them all up. When you subscribe to MiQuest, your daily skincare goes like this -

Morning:

  1. Cleanse
  1. Moisturise
  1. Apply SPF

Evening:

  1. Cleanse
  1. Moisturise
  1. Apply Q-Stick

It’s a simple process where everything you need is delivered direct to your door on a subscription basis. Your products are tailored directly to your skin’s needs using our AI-powered scanning technology which allows our formulation scientists to best understand your skin’s unique concerns.

Hydroquinone for Results

Hydroquinone is a powerful tool when tackling pigmentation. A study shows that treatment with hydroquinone had an 85% satisfaction rate in a 12-week period. It can be used on its own or in combination with other skincare ingredients such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, niacinamide and hydrocortisone.

Hydroquinone should be used under the guidance of skincare professionals, at the correct concentration, and only as prescribed. When used with caution and care, there’s no denying this is one of - if not the most - powerful skin lightening agents available to target hyperpigmentation.

For more information on how the MiQuest skincare routine can help even skin tone, take a look at our personalised pigmentation treatment and start your journey towards beautiful skin today.

Nautiyal, A, Wairkar, S. Management of hyperpigmentation: Current treatments and emerging therapies. Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2021; 34: 1000–1014. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcmr.12986

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