We may be entering fall season, but the sun is still beating down in the desert and the months of exposure have taken their toll. Maybe you took
the necessary precautions of stocking up on a healthy supply of full
spectrum SPF 30 or greater sunscreen, waterproof of course, and
faithfully wore a wide brimmed hat. Maybe you even splurged on a self
misting umbrella. But even with the best intentions, you likely suffered
some type of sun damage. Patients already combating acne, melasma and
other skin conditions that cause hyperpigmentation likely suffered sun
damage at an increased rate. Now you’re wondering how to restore your
skin to the even pre-summer glow and if hydroquinone based products will
do the trick.
Walk into most any dermatology office for advice on how to lighten the dark spots and you’ll most likely be recommended to use prescription strength hydroquinone 4%. You can easily purchase 2% hydroquinone (or less) over the counter. But are these skin lightening products safe? Not necessarily.
Sure, it works. And it works well. Hydroquinone decreases the formation of melanin in the skin, the part of the skin that gives us color. But melanin protects our skin from UVA and UVB rays, so by decreasing melanin we are increasing our exposure to the harmful rays. Countries such as France and the UK have actually banned hydroquinone and labeled it as a carcinogen. Other studies such as the Environmental and Working Groups Skin Deep database found hydroquinone to be an immunotoxicant and developmental and reproductive toxin, meaning it is most certainly unsafe for pregnant and nursing mothers.
Since hydroquinone is utilized as an agent in developing x-rays and black and white photographs, has been found in cigarette smoke and diesel fuel exhaust, it sounds like a lovely product to rub into your skin. (Sarcasm). Even the FDA proposed a ban on over the counter hydroquinone products in August 2006, but due to red tape and loopholes, hydroquinone is still being mass produced and marketed heavily over the counter and in physician’s offices nationwide. Why dermatologists are readily prescribing strong doses of hydroquinone based on this scientific evidence is puzzling. Maybe they are looking forward to treating the same patients for skin cancer in the near future?
Many users of hydroquinone report mild side effects such as irritation or short-term breakouts but find the product to be quite effective. If you are currently using hydroquinone and love the results, I’m not surprised. It works wonders! However, this is a classic case of determining if the risk outweighs the reward.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be looking for products that contain high concentrations of L-Ascorbic Acid (aka Vitamin C), Alpha Arbutin (aka Bearberry, a natural occuring less harmful form of hydroquinone), Alpha Hydroxy Acids or Niacinimide. All of these products are proven to significantly lighten dark spots and should be a much safer choice to care for the largest organ of your body. Be safe with your skin.

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