Hydroquinone For Skin: How To Use It, Benefits, & Side Effects

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Priya Gill, MBBCH, MRCP
By Arshiya Syeda

Hydroquinone is a skin brightening chemical. It is commonly used in creams, lotions, gels, and emulsions. Most of you may have used hydroquinone for skin, especially if you have pigmentation issues and stubborn dark spots.

Hydroquinone is often considered unsafe for the skin and has been subject to debate for years, mostly regarding its damaging effects. However, if you are confused about hydroquinone’s benefits, safety, and efficiency, we can help. This article explains everything about hydroquinone. Keep reading to learn more about its benefits, side effects, safety concerns, and how to use it. Scroll down.

What Is Hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is a chemical widely found in topical skin-lightening treatments, moisturizers, and cleansers. It is used in a concentration of 2% with other products to help lighten dark spots (also known as hyperpigmentation). It also may help treat melasma (a skin condition caused due to overproduction of cells that make your skin color) that may otherwise result in discoloration, dark spots, or patches.

This chemical was founded in the 1800s. Hydroquinone has been marketed in skin-lightening products for almost 50 years and remains the most commonly used lightening agent in this category (1). The chemical reacts with the melanin-producing cells in your skin and helps treat dark spots and pigmentation. However, the results are not immediate and they may take a few weeks to a few months to show.

The use of hydroquinone may lead to adverse effects. Find out more in the next section.

Is Hydroquinone Safe For Your Skin?

Although hydroquinone in the right concentrations seems to be compatible with most skin types, there are a few exceptions. Individuals with dry skin might experience increased dryness and irritation when exposed to this ingredient, though the effect wears off once you get accustomed to it. Those with normal or oily skin might not experience any issues at all.

Hydroquinone may not be ideal on dark skin as this ingredient seems to work best on fair skin tones. Hence, it is better to consult your dermatologist before using hydroquinone. In some cases, the ingredient was also found to worsen existing hyperpigmentation.

That said, hydroquinone does have certain benefits for your skin. We will explore them in the following section.

Benefits Of Hydroquinone For Your Skin

1. Treats Hyperpigmentation

Hydroquinone is a skin lightener and is most effective in treating hyperpigmentation and dark spots. Acne, aging, and melasma often leave stubborn marks on the skin that are difficult to deal with. Hydroquinone is considered the gold standard in dermatology for treating such issues (2). It reduces the production of melanin, a skin pigment that lends it a dark shade.

2. May Help Treat Melasma

Melasma causes dark patches on skin. It is often triggered by UV light exposure combined with hormonal changes while using birth control pills or during pregnancy. The focus points are typically the forehead, upper lip, and cheeks. Skin products with hydroquinone may help reduce melasma (3).

3. May Even Out Your Skin Tone

Hydroquinone helps lighten the disproportionately darkened areas of your skin and may help even out your overall skin tone.

These are the few major benefits of hydroquinone. But how does it work?

How Does Hydroquinone Work?

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme necessary for melanin production (4). It decreases the number of melanocytes (cells that produce melanin). The ingredient takes about four to six weeks to take effect. It may take several months of consistent use before you see the expected results.

Most wonder if hydroquinone is a skin bleaching cream. In reality, it does not bleach the skin. It simply restores the user’s skin to their baseline skin color.

Side Effects Of Hydroquinone

There is insufficient clinical evidence to substantiate the harmful effects of hydroquinone on humans. Minor effects are still a possibility, as with all medications, and can differ from person to person. Some of the side effects of hydroquinone are listed below:

  • Skin dryness
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Irritation

It is not recommended to apply hydroquinone for any longer than 6 months continuously at any given time. In rare cases, application of hydroquinone may cause erythema, xeroderma, and ochronosis (a blue-black discoloration) (5). However, these effects were observed only in patients using high concentrations of hydroquinone for extended periods.

It is advised that people only use a small amount of the product on their face and avoid getting it in their eyes. We have further elaborated on the right use of hydroquinone in the following section.

How To Use Hydroquinone

Use hydroquinone only under prescription by a dermatologist. Hydroquinone is available in 2% over the counter or as 4% prescribed (5). It is available as a cream, emulsion, gel, or solution.

Ensure you conduct a patch test before going ahead with a particular product. A patch test will help determine how the product reacts with your skin:

  • Apply the product to a small area on your forearm.
  • Cover the area with a Band-Aid.
  • Wash your hands properly to prevent the ingredient from lightening your hands or staining your clothes.
  • Wait for 24 hours.
  • Discontinue use if you feel any discomfort or irritation on the tested area.

But if you observe no adverse reactions, the product is good to go. Follow these steps for 3 to 4 months for the desired results.

  • Clean your skin and remove any dirt before applying the product. Hydroquinone is only effective if it penetrates deep.
  • Apply a thin layer with your fingertips and rub it over the affected area. Repeat twice a day.
  • Make sure to evenly apply the product to the entire face to prevent uneven pigmentation.
  • Use concurrently with sunscreen to protect the skin from UV rays.

Skin products containing hydroquinone can also be applied only on weekends or a few days of the week to prevent any complications. Short-term use of this ingredient is considered safe and effective compared to prolonged application.

Hydroquinone is a chemical commonly used in creams and lotions that target dark spots and melasma. It works by reducing tyrosinase activity, the enzyme responsible for melanin production. Although it is safe for use on normal or oily skin, individuals with dry skin may initially experience increased irritation and dryness. While there is limited scientific evidence, high concentrations of hydroquinone in your skin may result in redness, discoloration, or itchiness. Available as a gel or cream, make sure that you clean your skin properly to ensure proper penetration of hydroquinone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use Vitamin C and Hydroquinone together?

Yes. You can use vitamin C and hydroquinone together as both help fade spots and brighten the skin.

Is Kojic acid better than Hydroquinone?

Both are equally effective in fading hyperpigmentation. You can combine them to get the best results.

Key Takeaways

  • Hydroquinone is a chemical ingredient commonly found in skin brightening creams and lotions.
  • It helps lighten dark spots and blemishes, reduces the signs of melasma and hyperpigmentation, and brightens your overall skin tone.
  • While it is safe for normal and oily skin types, it may irritate dry and sensitive skin.
  • Consulting a dermatologist before using any skin lightening cream or treatment is highly recommended.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Hydroquinone for skin lightening.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20095963/
  2. Hyperpigmentation Therapy: A Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4142815/
  3. TOPICAL TREATMENT OF MELASMA
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC2807702/
  4. A comprehensive review on tyrosinase inhibitors
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC6327992/
  5. Hydroquinone
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539693/
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Arshiya Syeda is an editor at StyleCraze. Prior to that, she was a content writer and combined her writing and... more

Dr. Priya Gill

(MBBCH, MRCP)
Dr. Priya Gill is a consultant dermatologist in Klang, Malaysia. She specializes in the management of all medical and surgical... more

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