Hydroquinone for fairer skin - Things to know before using

It is well known that India is obsessed with fair skin. Whether it is a prospective bride or an aspiring actress, it is made known that you always have a better shot if you have a fairer skin. This whitewash movement started when Unilever introduced “Fair & Lovely” that targeted women, and then Emami observed men too wanted fairer skin, and they launched “Fair & Handsome”. So, women or men, both want fair skin. What was it that made Indians lose their minds over achieving a fairer skin? Was it the annexation by the Afghans or the Brits that led to the development of some degree of Stockholm syndrome that they started to admire the beauty of their annexers? Whatever the reason may be, it is an undeniable fact that even today, Indians are always looking for a way out in getting that white as the snow skin. Be it by following Grandma’s home-made fair skin remedy or by using the commercial products that claim that it makes you fairer, we want that fair skin.


Why do some of us look fair and some darker?

Surely some of you have stood in front of your mirror and asked why God made you look a certain way. Well, God or not, Melanin sure did. Melanin is the compound that gives you your skin colour. This yellow to dark pigment is present in between the top and bottom layer of your skin. There are special cells called Melanocytes that produce Melanin, and depending on the amount produced, you get your colour. More the Melanin, the darker your skin will be.


Melanin is important?

It absolutely is. Melanin is not just responsible for the colour of your skin, but it plays a vital role in protecting your skin from UV rays. In fact, the more Melanin, the better protection you have. So, people with a darker shade are actually more resilient towards the harmful effect of UV rays. Also, I’ll let you in on a secret, Caucasians with red or blonde hair potentially have no protection to UV rays. How? Well, there are two kinds of Melanin – Pheomelanin and Eumelanin. The latter is present in darker-skinned people, and a lesser intense version is present in Asian skin. Eumelanin can definitely protect you from UV rays. Pheomelanin is present in Caucasians with blonde or red hair and offers no protection at all.


Depigmentation for fairer skin

This is the process by which we become fairer. To elaborate, depigmenting agents reduce the formation of the above-mentioned Melanin. One such depigmenting agent largely popular in the cosmetics industry is Hydroquinone.


How Hydroquinone works

This compound was initially used to develop photographs. But it was later found that this compound had an excellent ability to inhibit the formation of Melanin. Research conducted proved its skin-lightening abilities and demonstrated that when used in creams with below 2% concentration, the skin lightening effect could definitely be observed. But when used over 5% strength, it caused adverse reactions. This study was conducted on volunteers, and they were satisfied with the results. Another study conducted on guinea pigs demonstrated that skin lightening effects could be visible in just 8-10 days!


Advantages of using Hydroquinone based creams
  • It works! This is probably the most significant advantage that Hydroquinone has. There is substantial data which proves that hydroquinone-based creams indeed make your skin lighter and fairer
  • It has a rapid action, and you can see results in a few weeks
  • It is effective against freckles, darkened skin due to hormonal change, acne marks and even to some extent darkening due to sun damage
Disadvantages/Side-effects of Hydroquinone based creams
  • Results of skin lightening can largely depend on the product formulation, so results vary from product to product
  • Because it strips your skin of Melanin, you are more prone to skin damage due to sun rays
  • It can cause dryness of skin
  • Darker-skinned people have reported their skin became blueish after application
  • Some adverse reactions include dermatitis, which is the inflammation of your skin
  • Some results have also indicated that prolonged use of hydroquinone-based creams can cause Melanoma, a type of skin cancer


Who should not use these creams?

Because Hydroquinone is an aggressive skin whitener, it is advised that people with the following conditions do not use it –
  • If you are already using an antibacterial or antifungal cream
  • If you have a history of allergies especially towards sulfite or suffer from asthma
  • If you have heart or liver disease
  • Though there isn’t any confirmed data, it is advisable that if you are pregnant, you use this only after your doctor approves
  • If ingested, it can cause ochronosis, which makes the skin blue, so keep children away
  • Children below the age of 12 should not use it as it may cause permanent damage


Reference websites – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15442642 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/657176

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