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1 comment / Posted by Vivant Skin Care

Hydroquinone: Vetted & Verified


In treating discoloration issues, you’ve no doubt looked at many options for fading pigment and achieving an even skin tone. In the process, you have probably seen some conflicting information about what is arguably the most effective ingredient for the treatment of hyperpigmentation, melasma, and age spots: hydroquinone. Let’s shed some light on the confusion surrounding this benchmark brightener.


What is Hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is an organic compound which is a type of phenol (an antiseptic and disinfectant). It works by inhibiting the synthesis of tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for catalyzing melanin production, and it can break down melanocytes, the specialized skin cells where melanin is produced. It’s been widely used in skin care products for more than fifty years.


Rumor Vs. Fact

Hydroquinone occurs naturally in some vegetables, fruits, grains, coffee, tea, beer, and wine. It also occurs as a by-product of the chemical benzene, a  substance that, at high levels of exposure, has been linked to some health risks. But studies involving hydroquinone have been based on high doses given orally or by injection using mice.


Exposure to hydroquinone from routine topical application is no greater than that from quantities present in the foods in which it naturally occurs. In fact, “hydroquinone is found in small amounts in the blood and urine of most individuals. It has been estimated that individuals excrete 2770 µgms of hydroquinone daily,” according to a report published in the journal Dermatology and Dermatologic Diseases.


Early formulations of skin lighteners produced outside the U.S. contained mercury as a pigment reducing agent. Because many of those formulations also included hydroquinone, HQ suffered by association. And because mercury continues, even today, to show up in some products produced in countries where there is little regulatory oversight, the association persists. Mercury is not a component of hydroquinone, nor is it used in products formulated and sold in the United States. 


In addition to suppressing melanin synthesis, hydroquinone inhibits an enzyme called homogentisic acid oxidase, which causes dark-colored homogentisic acid to build-up with extended use or with too high a dosage. In people with dark skin, the excess homogentisic acid can cause a bluish color in the skin. The term for this condition is ochronosis. The problem was first noted in South Africa at a time when bleaching products were being formulated with 20% or more of HQ. Many of those formulas also contained toxic contaminants including mercury. In countries where bleaching products are overused today, it continues to be a problem.


In the U.S. products are regulated by the FDA and Hydroquinone is limited to 2 % in over-the-counter formulas and 4% for prescription formulas. It’s also recommended that usage not exceed a six-month continuous cycle. Ochronisis in the U.S. is extremely rare.  


Certain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and resorcinol don’t play well with hydroquinone. Combining hydroquinone with a BP (or other peroxides) product can cause skin staining, a little soap and water should remove it. Combining HQ with resorcinol (an ingredient found in some lightening products) can trigger ochronosis.


What’s The Best Use Of Hydroquinone?

Dermatologists agree that no topical is more effective than hydroquinone for reversing sun damage, diminishing age spots, treating hyperpigmentation and melasma, and promoting an even skin tone. It’s known to be particularly effective when combined with vitamin A to boost collagen and speed cell renewal.


Vivant’s Bleaching Cream (Level 1) and Bleaching Serum Forté rely on hydroquinone in a synergistic blend with kojic acid, and vitamin A for targeting skin discoloration and revealing a brighter, more consistent tone and texture.



Things To Note

Skin is more sensitive to the effects of the sun when using hydroquinone, so it’s extra important to use sunscreen, wear a hat and limit sun exposure.


Hydroquinone should not be used for longer than six months continuously.


Pregnant women should avoid hydroquinone.


Bottom Line

Hydroquinone has more than 50 years of efficacy and safety data behind it. After years of scientific study and practical use, hydroquinone remains the best of the brighteners. When used as directed in the proper formulation (2% OTC, 4% prescription), hydroquinone is safe and extremely effective for significantly reducing excess pigmentation, melasma, age spots and acne scarring. With consistent use, you can expect results within two to three months.



  • Posted On June 19, 2018 by Gigi Jara

    Thank you for this post. Sometimes its challenging to explain the good and bad of this ingredient to my clients. They want results and are sometimes hesitant to use a product with Hq all because someone said it was just bad for them. I will print this up to give my client’s some knowledge. I really enjoy all the blog posts
    Thanks again

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