Luckily, if you are sensitive to hydroquinone or are worried about safety, there are several other options available to treat hyperpigmentation, or fade age spots, freckles and melasma.
Hydroquinone, a powerful chemical lightening agent which has been used for decades to fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots, occurs naturally in many herbs and plants and, may also be produced synthetically. Due to its potency, hydroquinone is regulated by the FDA, and only 2% concentrations are allowed in over-the-counter cosmetic preparations, such as bleaching or fading creams. When applied topically, hydroquinone may cause an allergic reaction on the skin, and recent studies have suggested that hydroquinone may be a carcinogen, with long-term use of this potent chemical increasing the risk of skin cancer.
Given the drawbacks, it’s no wonder many women are searching for viable alternatives and the good news is, they are out there. Skin lighteners derived from plants, berries and herbs are not only safer than synthetic hydroquinone lighteners, they are gentler on the skin, safe for all skin types and just as effective.
Before starting any type of protocol to lighten the skin, it is important to understand the primary cause of most hyperpigmentation is unprotected sun exposure. If you are serious about fading dark spots or uneven skin tone, be prepared for a long-term commitment. The process requires diligence, (results can take anywhere from 1 month to 3), lightening products must be applied once to twice daily and sun protection must be worn every single day in order to maintain results and prevent any new damage. This includes when driving, flying, sitting next to a sunny window or even in front of the computer! Any unprotected sun exposure can potentially cause further hyperpigmentation and must be guarded against carefully.
The following ingredients are viable alternatives to synthetic hydroquinone lighteners:
Arbutin: Derived from the leaves of blueberry, bearberry, cranberry or mulberry shrubs, or from certain genus of pear, arbutin contains the natural form of hydroquinone, which will inhibit the production of melanin by the skin.
Azelaic acid: Most commonly, this ingredient is used to treat acne but recent studies have shown azelaic acid beneficial for the treatment of skin discolorations, as well. Azelaic acid is made from the grains of wheat, rye or barely, and is usually found in creams at a concentration of 20%. Studies have shown it to be effective in treating melasma and inhibiting melanin production.
Bilberry extract: A relative of blueberries, bilberry fruit contains tannins that have natural astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. Traditionally used by herbalists to treat blood pressure and prevent the formation of blood clots, bilberry is also an excellent anti-oxidant. Recently, bilberry has proven useful for treating hyperpigmentation and sun damage due to its chemical composition, which includes botanical hydroquinone, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Kojic acid: Derived from a fungus, kojic acid also inhibits melanin production in a similar fashion to hydroquinone. This ingredient oxidizes quickly and will turn brown if left exposed to air, so check the expiration date carefully and be sure to store in a cool, dark place, away from heat or light.
Lemon: Used to lighten hair, bleach freckles and whiten faded or yellowed cotton clothing, lemon is a valuable home remedy women have been turning to for years. Lemons help brighten and clarify the skin with citric acid and vitamin C and may be applied topically to the skin with a cotton swab, straight from the freshly sliced fruit. However, fresh lemon juice can be drying to the skin so be certain to apply moisturizer after treatment to keep the skin hydrated.
Licorice extract: A tyrosinase inhibitor, licorice extract is a potent skin lightener that disrupts melanin synthesis by the skin, and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have suggested that licorice may be up to 75 times more effective than vitamin C in fading hyperpigmentation, and it may safely be used by anyone who is allergic to hydroquinone.
Malic acid: An alpha hydroxy acid derived exclusively from apples, malic acid has protective and moisturizing qualities, making it ideal for use on sensitive skin, or those suffering from Rosacea or other skin concerns.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, also known as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbic acid, ascorbyl glucosamine or ascorbyl palmitate, is a common ingredient found in many botanical skin lighteners that is also a first-class antioxidant. Although studies have indicated that vitamin C does inhibit melanin production at concentrations above 5%, most skincare products available over-the-counter are not quite this potent. For this reason, vitamin C should be used in conjunction with other treatments for a skin-lightening boost.
Our Product Picks
Hydroquinone alternatives are available in a wide-ranging combination of formulas. For lightening multiple areas of the body, such as face, hands and chest, reach for Exuviance Skin Brightening Gel, which contains kojic acid, vitamin C, licorice, mulberry extract and bearberry extract for serious de-pigmentation results. For a more concentrated serum, try Donell Super Skin Lightening Gel, featuring a blend of azelaic acid, kojic acid, vitamin C and lemon extract. Sensitive skin will benefit from nightly treatments of Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum, a velvety serum, designed to fade uneven skin tone in as little as 4 weeks. And finally, don’t forget the sunblock. Enjoy full-spectrum protection with DDF Organic Sunblock SPF 30.
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