An uneven skin tone is extremely common and an issue that I frequently see in clinic. Regardless of skin colour, dark spots and pigmentation can affect everyone and any part of the face and body that’s regularly exposed to the sun or has been scarred. Fortunately, there are various powerful skincare ingredients that can effectively fade pigmentation and brighten the skin. One of the most well-known pigmentation-busters is Hydroquinone, a controversial skincare ingredient that has been heralded for its lightening properties, proven to even and rebalance hyperpigmentation in the skin. But is it safe to use? And what are the alternatives? This is what you need to know.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is an umbrella term that encompasses the visible overproduction of melanin. The top three cosmetic issues that I see in the clinic are ​melasma​, ​post-acne marks and sunspots (or solar lentigines).

Sunspots develop over time as skin is exposed to UV from the sun and other sources, and it is less able to regulate melanin production. As a result, an overproduction of melanin can create distinct pigmented patches on the skin, commonly found on the face, hands, and décolletage, and can be found in all skin types.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), or post-acne marks, occur in response to inflammation in the skin. They are often the result of acne and scarring and can happen after facial treatments such as laser, particularly in darker skin types.

Melasma is a condition where brown or greyish patches of pigmentation develop, often due to internal body triggers, such as hormonal changes like pregnancy or thyroid conditions. Melasma is often worsened by sun exposure in the summer and appears in widespread patches on the cheeks, forehead, and above the upper lip.

What is Hydroquinone, and how does it work?

In skincare, Hydroquinone is used as a topical treatment for melasma, freckles, age and sunspots, and even acne scars. For many years, it has been considered the most effective treatment for pigmentation, and it works by slowing structural changes in the membranes of the melanocytes (the cells responsible for melanin production), accelerating their degradation. The potent and active skin-lightening effect makes Hydroquinone the most used depigmenting agent in treating melasma, spots, freckles, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

It has a controversial history because it’s been used, abused, and counterfeited over the years by people trying to bleach their skin. But when used at the appropriate doses, under medical supervision and in the short term, it can be very effective. In clinic, we prescribe the Obagi Nu-Derm range, which contains Hydroquinone and is available on prescription.

Are there alternatives?

There are now several alternatives to Hydroquinone, some of which can be used alongside Hydroquinone and others independently of it.

Of course, these treatments work best combined with good lifestyle measures such as sun avoidance, sun protection and removal of hormonal stimulants, which are essential for suppressing the skin’s pigment cells. One alternative is azelaic acid​, which can be used when pregnant or breastfeeding, both of which are times when hormones can drive pigmentation to worsen. It can even be used when other issues co-exist, such as acne or rosacea.

Vitamin A is another great ingredient. A good quality cosmeceutical or prescription formulation reduces cell damage, boosts cellular repair, regulates oil production, boosts collagen formation, and reduces pigmentation. It has a melanocyte stabilising and melanin breakdown effect.

The best alternative to Hydroquinone is a product called Cyspera, which effectively reduces pigmentation marks and banishes melasma, leaving a naturally clearer complexion. Its key active ingredient is cysteamine, which is proven to be even more effective than Hydroquinone. It is found naturally in human cells and reduces melanin in the skin’s epidermis.

My Bright & Even Pigment Correcting Treatment 

Designed to tackle pigmentation from all angles, my new bespoke pigment correcting treatment combines a pro-strength retinol and AHA peel with a Meder Hydrafill Mask and LED light therapy to hydrate and heal the skin. This is followed up with a 3-product, pigmentation-fighting Intensive System by Cyspera, which activates a powerful synergistic action for improved pigment correction and skin health.

If you’d like to discuss these options and establish the right treatment for you, click here to book a consultation with a skincare expert.