Hydroquinone, a chemical ingredient in lightening products, may be the go-to for hyperpigmentation. It stops about 90 percent of tyrosinase activity, but it has its disadvantages. “We almost always treated spots with hydroquinone but patients want natural alternatives, which is why there are so many options,” says San Francisco dermatologist Vic Narurkar, MD.
An AHA that brightens sans irritation by gently exfoliating the outermost layer of skin, mandelic acid also does not instigate melanin levels to increase in the skin. Philosophy The Microdelivery Triple-Acid Brightening Peel combines the lightening power of mandelic acid along with glycolic and phytic acids in presaturated peels to reduce the look of dark spots and discoloration. $69, philosophy.com
This antioxidant evens out discoloration and creates healthier, stronger skin. The moisturizing Epicuren CxC Vitamin C Complex. Formula relies on a high level of vitamin C to brighten and improve skin tone. $36, epicuren.com
It’s effective.“Poor science in the 1950s scared people away from hydroquinone. I have used it in my practice for years without any complications. I limit its use to five months at a time and then use kojic acid for three months. If for whatever reason a patient does not want to use hydroquinone, I prescribe a series of light chemical peels, pixelated laser treatments and kojic acid as an alternative,” says Minneapolis dermatologist Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD.
It’s affordable. Hydroquinone is a relatively inexpensive way to treat hyperpigmentation. While lasers and peels work, they are more costly and may require more downtime.
It can’t be used for long periods of time. Hydroquinone should only be used for a few months at a time.
It can cause gray spots. One potential side effect from using hydroquinone is a skin condition known as ochronosis, where the skin becomes thick and dark, causing more permanent grayish spots to occur.
Results are not permanent. Hydroquinone is not a skin-bleaching cream as so many people believe it to be. It stops the production of pigment and once you stop using it, you need to be extra cautious of sun exposure, as the discoloration may resurface.