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However, remember that melanin is not just an accidental byproduct, but our body’s defense mechanism against radiation. Therefore, by using even the best dark spot corrector with hydroquinone, or another melanin-blocking ingredient (like azelaic acid, for example), you are weakening your natural defenses against UV radiation. This can lead to the development of skin cancer and early aging of the skin.
To avoid the risk associated with tyrosinase blockers in dark spot corrector creams, some individuals turn to exfoliating creams and masks to speed up cell regeneration. By cycling out the damaged skin cells, these dark spot corrector creams can help fade sun spots on face and hands, but they will take longer to show effects. Common exfoliating ingredients in dark spot correctors are alpha hydroxy acids, like salicylic and lactic acids; Bromelain, an exfoliating enzyme; and Retinol, which technically belongs to the hydroxy acid group, and is well known for stimulating cell turnover.
Dark Spot Corrector Side Effects
In your attempt to get rid of dark spots, it’s important to avoid unsightly, and sometimes permanent, side effects. As already mentioned, the use of dark spot corrector products with hydroquinone can lead to skin cancer and permanent skin discolorations, which is why the use of this ingredient is heavily regulated throughout the world. Facial exfoliators can also cause problems, and may cause swelling and irritation if the cream is used too often, or the concentration of the active acids is too strong in the dark spot corrector.
What is Hydroquinone?
The chemical compound of hydroquinone is two hydroxyl groups bonded to a benzene ring. Organic molecules containing a hydroxyl group are also called alcohols. Other hydroxyls used in skin care products include: alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids.
Hydroquinone Used in Skin Products
Hydroquinone is soluble in water and is used in both prescription and over-the-counter skin products to lighten and reduce skin pigmentation. Hydroquinone is available in cosmetics at a 2% concentration and is available from a physician or by prescription at 4% strength or stronger. Hydroquinone at 2% can be found in old standards like Porcelana as well as cutting edge skin lightening products like Reverse from Rodan & Fields. Sometimes hydroquinone is combined with 0.05% to 0.1% tretinoin.
How does hydroquinone work?
There are various theories about how hydroquinone works to affect hyperpigmentation. Some researchers claim that it denatures the melanin-protein complex, causing a decoloration of the skin. Others claim it inhibits the tyrosinase enzyme, as well as the synthesis of the protein associated with melanin. Because of its cytotoxic impact on the melanocyte, it is said to disrupt basic cellular processes, including DNA and RNA synthesis.1,2,3,4 Regardless of the mechanism used to lighten skin, the focus these days should really be on the more important concerns regarding the safety of hydroquinone.
Is it safe?
There is no doubt about it, hydroquinone is an effective pigment-lightener; however, much attention is now focused on its safety. Not only is safety an issue, but concerns also stem from its designation as “an extreme sensitizer;”5 many individuals are allergic to hydroquinone, and others experience serious contact dermatitis with repeated use, leading, unfortunately, to a prescription for a steroid cream to counter the associated irritation. In extreme cases, a condition known as onchronosis can occur, resulting in blue-black macules or hyperpigmentation accompanied by acne-like lesions. Onchronosis generally requires higher concentrations of hydroquinone and is more prevalent in darker skin. However, lower concentrations may also illicit a poor response, too, which has led many dermatologists to a prescriptive cycling of hydroquinone involving using hydroquinone-containing products for four months, stopping for four months and resuming again for four months, and so on. During the off months, a hydroquinone-free brightener is recommended. At the other end of the spectrum are concerns that hydroquinone causes hypopigmentation, or white spots.