For those of us within the melanin-rich skin community, fading hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and acne scarring is probably at the top of your skincare-requirements list. And you may have even succumbed to products that claim to whiten, lighten, or bleach these problems away. If that’s the case, you’ve most likely come into contact with an ingredient called Hydroquinone. Sound familiar? Here’s everything you need to know about this skin lightening agent, and why this ingredient is a big no-no from us.
Hydroquinone, what’s it all about?
Appearing as light coloured crystals or solutions, this phenol derivative is openly used in the beauty industry as an effective skin lightening agent to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, dark spots, acne scarring, and melasma for those with melanin-rich skin. It works by specifically inhibiting the melanin-producing enzyme known as tyrosinase, which when triggered (often by inflammation), causes a surge of melanocyte cells to zoom to the rescue on the skin's surface. Any excess melanin left behind is what gives us hyperpigmentation.
Other ingredients such as Alpha Arbutin, Azelaic Acid, Niacinamide, Glutathione, and vitamin C, all act as safe melanin pathway-reversing agents, instead of Hydroquinone. These can be found in our wonderfully potent anti-hyperpigmentation Sevenly Delight Brightening Serum for Darker Skin Tones.
The side effects of Hydroquinone.
Although completely banned in Europe since 2001, this ingredient can still be found in illegal creams, solutions, or ointments around the world.
Why, you ask? Because the other role of Hydroquinone, is as a carcinogenic agent that can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, as well as toxicity in several organs, especially the kidneys. When applied topically, Hydroquinone can also cause skin irritation, itching, dryness, allergic contact dermatitis, uneven skin lightening, and even paradoxical hyperpigmentation. This could also include Ochronosis; a blue-black pigmentation with caviar-like spots that can develop on the skin.
Research has shown that those who use products containing Hydroquinone over prolonged periods of time, are more likely to develop dark areas on their skin. Of course, this results in even higher usage in an attempt to reverse the damage; and the cycle continues.
These side effects are the result of long-term or high-dosage use, without the guidance of an experienced health professional. Because of this, the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) suggest that you avoid the eye area altogether, and only use small amounts on the face as recommended by your doctor.
The 4.5.6 Skin verdict on Hydroquinone: it’s a no from us.
As a science-based skincare brand born in the heart of France, we stand by our government's laws and keep Hydroquinone away from all our formulations. And even if it were permitted, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that proves these harmful side effects mostly impact POC. Not to mention, the use of this carcinogenic agent goes against our brand philosophy—to only use ingredients that promote skin health, wellness, and resilience.
For more information on the bleaching, whitening, and lightening industry, see our article here for a clearer understanding of the harmful side effects.
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