Hyperpigmentation: Alternatives To Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone is the bleaching chemical found in most over-the-counter and prescription bleaching creams. It works by disrupting the formation of melanin in the skin. Most often formulations with hydroquinone are used to try to fade areas of hyperpigmentation caused by acne, bug bites, or some other insult to the skin. Other conditions that cause hyperpigmentation are pregnancy, where hormones cause a condition known as melasma, and age spots where dark spots appear on the back of hands as a result of overexposure to the sun.
The Federal Drug and Food Administration placed hydroquinone on the cancer watch list because it has been shown to cause cancer in rats. While removing a potential carcinogen from public use is a good thing, anyone who has used fade creams with hydroquinone knows this is no great loss. Many users know it’s next to useless anyway. Months of use result in only the slightest change.
Skin care experts have moved to create new products that give better results. The current program for dealing with hyperpigmentation problems is three-fold””prevention in the form of limiting sun exposure and protection with a sun screen; regular exfoliation and/or microdermabrasion of dead skin cells so the fading agent can penetrate; and finally use of newer fade creams and gels.
So what is available? One line of products that has had great success is Obagi. The Obagi kit contains products that follow the prescribed method of protection from the sun, exfoliation, followed up with a fade cream. In fact, Obagi has combined a sun screen and lightening agent in one product called Sunfader. Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid has shown success in inhibiting the production of melanin, and Obagi has a line containing Vitamin C as well.
Other skin care lines use tretinoin. Tretinoin has been shown to be effective ingredient in treating skin discolorations; however, it takes much longer to produce satisfactory results. Products containing tretinoin must be used for a minimum period of six months before any improvement in skin color is noticed.
Kojic acid is a popular ingredient in some fade gels. It is by-product of manufacturing Saki, the Japanese wine. Kojic acid is very effective in inhibiting melanin production. Unfortunately, kojic acid, like hydroquinone, turns brown in color and loses its potency upon exposure to air and sunlight.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or AHA as they are commonly known, can be combined with other treatments such as kojic acid and azelaic acid for improving sun-damaged skin. AHAs help the other ingredients penetrate the skin deeply. AHA acid peels are very useful in improving skin discolorations.
Lastly, arbutin is a natural alternative to hydroquinone. It is derived from cranberry, blueberry, and bearberry leaves. It is often used in combination with other ingredients as in the SkinCeuticals line where it is combined with Kojic acid.