With age, everyone suffers from skin issues. Some suffer from early onset wrinkles, while some suffer from unwanted dark spots.
What are dark spots and why do they occur?
Dark spots are discolorations that may appear on the skin of face, hands or other parts of the body. It mainly is a consequence of abnormal triggering of melanin, a skin pigment. This reaction occurs by triggers such as sun damage and aging but can also result from acne or other skin diseases. Occasionally, hormonal imbalance can also result in dark spots, especially during pregnancy. Any person who has looked into methods to cure their dark spots will definitely have heard about hydroquinone.
A widely prescribed topical cream by most dermatologists; hydroquinone is a skin lightening cream. It is highly effective in treating dark spots and melasma. However, such potent medications always come with equally serious side effects.
With an increasing desire to have flawless skin, most women are ready to apply any available cosmetic product that claims to possess skin whitening qualities. The cosmetic market offers a variety of products ranging from creams and lotions to serums for skin lightening. However, it is not as easy as it sounds.
Most people are desperate to try anything that will help them remove these unwanted dark spots, however quick fixes often do more harm than good. A product widely known to possess miraculous whitening properties is Hydroquinone. It has properties that seem to be the perfect solution to all dark spots but it has significant cons in comparison to the short-lived pros.
What is Hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone is basically a skin-bleaching agent. It is also known as benzene-1,4-diol or quino. Its effect on skin whitening is well known and is also extremely effective in this task. Its underlying mechanism is by completely blocking a melanin-producing enzyme called tyrosinase.
Because tyrosinase is an essential component in melanin production, blocking its effects will naturally reduce the production of melanin. Reduced melanin gives the skin a brighter complexion in the areas of application. Not only does hydroquinone fade dark spots, but it is also potent in lightening the appearance of old scars and undesirable freckles.
All these factors make hydroquinone seem the perfect solution to all skin related issues. However, a deeper analysis is essential to understand the potential side effects.
The good side
1. It does what it is made for; it is a potent skin-lightening agent perfect for reducing dark spots and discoloration.
2. Visible improvement can be seen after using hydroquinone just for 8 to 12 weeks.
3. Easily available: It is an Over The Counter cosmetic product that can be bought in any pharmacy and many department stores. The OTC products have 1-2% hydroquinone concentrations. Many fairness creams and serums also contain hydroquinone as an active ingredient.
4. An affordable option: In comparison to laser toning, micro-needling, and microdermabrasion; hydroquinone can be fairly cheap.
The bad side
1. Some studies have reported hydroquinone to have potential carcinogenic factors.
2. It has also been reported to modify normal immune function and irritate the skin to produce allergy-like effects.
3. Prolonged use can worsen your skin, making it increasingly pigmented and give you an overall darker complexion, a condition known as hyperpigmentation.
4. Not only does it have long-term side effects, but it can also result in increased skin dryness, reddening, and an abnormal burning feeling.
5. Hydroquinone reduces melanin production and thus makes the skin more susceptible to sun damage. Using hydroquinone without adequate protection with sunscreen can create additional dark spots.
6. The effects are only temporary. As long as you use hydroquinone, your skin lightening will persist. However, as soon as you stop using the product, its effects will wane with time.
7. Improper application of hydroquinone with patchy distribution can give you spots of bright skin in the midst of darker skin, which is equally undesirable as dark skin. Spot application beyond areas of dark spots can produce a large circumference of white spots.
Why Do Dermatologists Continue Prescribing Hydroquinone despite its side effects?
In some cases, where the dark spots are resistant to other safer alternatives, dermatologists tend to prescribe hydroquinone as a last resort. In such instances, dermatologists prescribe the treatment for a short duration with a strong prescription level concentration.
Safer better alternatives
The pros of hydroquinone might be a tempting factor to immediately purchase and start applying it. However, there are much better and safer alternatives available that are equally effective and affordable.
1. Prevention is always better than cure
Protect your skin every time you go out with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every 3 -4 hours and is a must for everyday skin routine.
2. Treating the existing dark spots by a multi-modality method
a) Vitamin C serum
Vitamin C is a potent anti-oxidant with amazing skin brightening properties. It can be used as a serum in combination with other skin nourishing vitamins, Vitamin C and E.
b) Vitamin A derivative, retinol
Retinols accelerate normal skin cell turn over time as well as reduce the appearance of fine lines, and old scars. It is also easily available Over The Counter product with much milder side effects in comparison to hydroquinone.
c) Natural skin lighteners
Several naturally occurring plants and fungi contain chemicals with highly potent skin lightening effects. Natural skin lighteners such as kojic acid, which is derived from fungi, green tea, arbutin, and mulberry extracts are all safe to be used for skin lightening.