Our skin says a lot about who we are. Over the years, it collects the stories of sunny beach days with a smattering of freckles or the many hours you spent laughing with friends until that joy etched lines into your face. Unfortunately, not every tale is a good one, especially when it involves stubborn discoloration that won’t seem to fade. Whether it’s a reminder of a pimple from over a month ago or the lingering shadow of pregnancy mask, it can be frustrating when hyperpigmentation won’t leave.

If you’ve spent time searching for solutions, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across information about hydroquinone (HQ) and its ability to finally nip discoloration in the bud once and for all. Let’s discuss this melasma-busting miracle and how you can get prescription-strength treatments from the skin experts at ADCI.

What is Hydroquinone?

HQ, as it’s often called, is a skin-lightening compound that’s been a skincare industry gold standard for removing unwanted discoloration since 1938.

At first, this compound wasn’t intended for skincare but as a rubber antioxidant. It wasn’t until researchers discovered its ability to lighten skin that it made its way into skincare, with the compound’s first FDA approval for OTC sales granted in 1982.

Despite its somewhat industrial beginnings and its current prescription-only status, HQ hasn’t lost steam as one of the frontrunners in clearing up skin pigmentation.

Causes of Skin Discoloration

Skin discoloration can occur in response to several potential triggers, including:

  • Sun Exposure: The sun isn’t always our skin’s best friend. Prolonged exposure can lead to sun spots or solar lentigines, because UV rays encourage melanin to cluster together into dark patches.
  • Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH): Have you ever had a blemish or acne that left behind a dark mark? It’s likely the result of PIH. Pigment or melanin and blood, is extruded from the injured cells into the tissue, leaving dark patches.
  • Melasma:  Melasma presents as brownish patches, typically on the face. It can be caused by genetic predisposition, oral contraceptives, hormone supplements or hormonal changes, often seen during pregnancy and called the “mask of pregnancy”.
  • Age: With age comes wisdom, but sometimes it also brings age spots. These dark spots are typically due to chronic sun exposure and clustering of the melanocytes.
  • Medications: Some medications can make your skin more susceptible to pigmentation changes, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen, blood pressure medications, antibiotics and antimalarial drugs.

Despite the differences between these hyperpigmentation-inducing triggers, they all share the common quality of altering how your skin produces or distributes melanin pigments.

How Does Hydroquinone Work?

Now that we know the culprits behind hyperpigmentation, we can look at the mechanisms that make HQ one of the most effective pigment lightening medications on the market.

Skin discoloration occurs when melanin, produced by specialized cells called melanocytes, accumulates in our skin due to disturbances in its regulation by UV rays, hormonal changes, heat trauma, etc.

Hydroquinone works because it inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme in the melanogenesis pathway. By slowing down tyrosinase, HQ also slows down melanin synthesis, making it less likely to accumulate into hyperpigmentation.

Hydroquinone is often combined with an exfoliating agent such as tretinoin to help the old, pigmented skin cells to shed so that fresh, new cells can replace them. This accelerated cell turnover helps fade those dark spots more rapidly than they’d naturally diminish. There’s also the added benefit of increased cell turnover, giving you a more radiant complexion in general as you lose old, dry patches of skin and replace them with soft, new skin.

Finally, HQ affects how melanin-containing structures called melanosomes distribute themselves throughout the cells, making them more uniform rather than bunching up into discolored patches for a more even skin tone.

Hydroquinone in Your Skincare Routine

Like any potent skincare ingredient, HQ should only be used under a doctor’s supervision and only for a maximum of 3 months at a time. It should be discontinued for several months to prevent a side effect from occurring called ochronosis, a darkening of the skin. Consult your doctor for a maintenance regimen to retain your results.

ADCI takes a comprehensive approach to skincare by creating customized skincare plans that can give you the results you’re looking for much faster while keeping you safe from any potential side effects. For example,  we may find that combining HQ with other treatments, including chemical peels and laser therapy, could diminish your dark spots much faster than hydroquinone alone. At the same time, someone with sensitive skin would be very uncomfortable if they took the same approach. At AST, we carry prescription hydroquinone that works with most sensitive skin because of the quality inert ingredients in the formula.

Contact ADCI today to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns about hyperpigmentation. We’ll work with you to find the right balance of results and skin health for a more radiant, even-toned complexion.