Hydroquinone works to block enzymes, tyrosinase, that allows for the transfer of pigment from pigment-producing cells to skin cells where pigment becomes visible. Hydroquinone cannot exceed 2% in over-the-counter products, which means it takes longer to see results.
Hydroquinone is available up to 4% and can only be prescribed by a licenced medical professional. The prescription strength hydroquinone that is more effective than over-the-counter products due to the higher concentration. For the best results it can take one to 3-6 months to see an improvement. Using topicals such as salicylic acid, retinoids or in-office chemical peels can also help to get the effect you’re after.
Hydroquinone is not something that is offered first as a part of skin-care regimen for lightening discoloration acne scars, melasma, and sunspots. Typically your esthetician will recommend other topicals before offering Hydroquinone.
So is Hydroquinone safe to use on the face? Yes, using a 2%-4% is safe to use. Anything stronger may need to be monitored by a licensed medical provider. The amount of times you use it is important, typically patients use it for two to three months max at higher concentrations and up to four months at lower concentrations. Then you need to take months off.
Hydroquinone has its advantages, but some people experience redness, burning and inflammation from using it, which may result in more pigment. Make sure you’re not over applying it, which won’t lighten your skin any faster. If you overdo it, although rare, it can create a halo effect, which is reversible upon discontinuation of the product.
It’s not recommended patients use hydroquinone for more than 12 weeks. Always use a safe, doctor-approved formula, follow the instructions by your provider and stop using it after three months. Use of this product should be monitored by your provider and as long as you follow the proper protocol given to you the product will benefit your skin.
Sometimes hydroquinone can be used to pre-treat skin before laser treatments. It can be also be used in combination with retinol for additional benefit depending on your skin concerns.