Want to Fade Age Spots, Shed Sun Damage, Erase Pregnancy Mask? Try Hydroquinone 4%!

Hyperpigmentation goes by a lot of different names: age spots, melasma, pregnancy mask and liver spots. The list goes on. But as far as a top solution to fade stubborn scars, redness, brown and grayish blotches, the list is short. Prescription strength Hydroquinone stands out as one of the most recommended solutions worldwide. Prescription-strength hydroquinone (HQ) is even US FDA approved to treat hyperpigmentation caused by melasma, also known as pregnancy mask. 

No matter your skin type or color, everyone's skin develops and uneven tone and discoloration eventually. Who hasn’t experienced post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, AKA, red or brown spots left behind after acne, bug bites, cuts, and blemishes heal? Even age spots, typically appearing around age 40, will accept an early invitation if provoked by lifestyle, hereditary factors, and medical conditions.  

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Common Causes of Persistent Brown, Gray and Red spots (Blotchy Skin)

  • Marks after bug bites or skin lesions have healed

  • Redness left behind by psoriasis and eczema

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Pregnancy

  • Oral contraceptives

  • Sun damage

  • Genetics

  • Exposure to pollution or chemicals

  • Smoking

How Does Hydroquinone Work?

In simple terms, hydroquinone slows the production of melanin, the source of skin color. In pharmacological terms, hydroquinone inhibits the production of tyrosinase and suppression of other melanocyte metabolic processes. That’s a mouthful!  

How Long Does it take for Hydroquinone to Lighten Skin?

Depending on each individual's skin tone, sensitivities, and hyperpigmentation severity, hydroquinone can show results as fast as 3 weeks or up to 12 weeks. Remember, Hydroquinone 4% strength is only available with a prescription, so be sure to follow your physician's instructions in your treatment. But here are some tips to help you along the way.

Hydroquinone 4% Do’s and Don’ts

Do be vigilant. Follow a schedule and monitor any adverse or allergic reactions. Dryness or redness may be common. Moisturizers will help along with using hydroquinone less frequently in the beginning. Keep in mind, when treating age spots on your hands, you may want to reapply after washing. And always use your judgment when deciding to see a doctor if you experience an allergic response or other worrisome side effects.

Do use sun protection. Not using sun protection will undo the progress you’ve made with hydroquinone. Increasing pigmentation is your skin’s way of protecting itself from the sun. So the goal of reducing pigmentation through skin lightening makes skin vulnerable to sun damage. Bottom line: Always use broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen of at least 30 SPF. Go for SPF 50 to be safe. Sun damage is among the top causes of unwanted skin darkening. See that as a positive because you’re in control. Protect your skin from the sun. For a daily sun block that goes on light but shields your skin from UVA/UVB rays, try EltaMD Daily UV Broad Spectrum. 

Do be patient. Hydroquinone 4% works faster than OTC, but lightening skin is a gradual process. So hang in there with your treatment. Also, it’s important to understand that depigmentation with hydroquinone is temporary. Speak with your physician on the duration of your treatment and how you can take a break and then restart your treatment.

Do go for the Skin Lightening/Anti-Aging TRIFECTA: Use Hydroquinone with Tretinoin and Vitamin C serum. Tretinoin, also known by the brand name Retin-A, preps the skin for better absorption of hydroquinone, and VItamin C brightens your skin throughout the day. Obagi-C Rx Clarifying Serum with 4% hydroquinone gets you two-thirds of the way there. Just add tretinoin and you are all set! For a complete skin brightening and age reversal system with Vitamin C and hydroquinone 4, try Obagi-C Rx System.

The flexibility of 3 prescription strengths, 025% tretinoin, 05% tretinoin and .100% tretinoin (Retin-A), eases any fear you may have if you're trying this potent retinoid for the first time. For more information on tretinoin, visit our Tretinoin FAQs. 

Do maximize hydroquinone by creating a regular and complete skincare routine. Obagi Nu-Derm Rx System provides specially formulated products for all skin types and keeps you on track with a six-step plan. Obagi's Nu-Derm Rx complete system includes:

Do go outdoors and enjoy life. Just because the use of hydroquinone requires you to protect your skin from the sun doesn't mean you can't enjoy your regular activities. Just take extra precaution. If you're a sporty person, who loves swimming, and beach time, try a sunblock specially formulated to withstand heavy perspiration and is water resistant like EltaMD UV Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 50 and remember to reapply as directed. Wear a hat, UV protective clothing and overall, be mindful. Obagi Sun Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 50 with Vitamin C, offers the strong protection you need and boosts your skin care brightening journey.  

Do consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

What to Avoid When Using Hydroquinone 

Don’t use hydroquinone with peroxides and. Carefully read ingredients in other skin care products you are using in conjunction with hydroquinone. A quick heads up, several ingredients that you want to avoid are typically found in OTC acne treatments., Among them are hydrogen peroxide, benzoyl peroxide, and resorcinol.

Don’t spot treat. Just as hyperpigmentation is a gradual process, so is skin lightening with hydroquinone. It’s best to spread hydroquinone over the entire nearby area where melasma, dark spots and scars are visible, no matter the severity. The reason? Hyperpigmentation can be deep within the skin from acne or only surface discoloration lingering after a blemish. Hyperpigmentation deep within the epidermal layers is stubborn and can take time to fully reveal itself. Treat one small area and you could end up chasing dark spots that show up at different points.

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Hydroquinone FAQs

Q: What is Hydroquinone 4?

A: Prescription strength hydroquinone is 4% concentration, the highest amount of the active ingredient permitted in the US in Rx products.   

Q: How does Hydroquinone work?

A: Hydroquinone gradually depletes hyperpigmentation on the skin’s outer layer through exfoliation and skin cell renewal. Then hydroquinone slows the production of melanin, the source of skin color. In pharmacological terms, hydroquinone inhibits the production of tyrosinase and suppression of other melanocyte metabolic processes. That’s a mouthful!  

Q: In what order do I apply Hydroquinone, Vitamin C and Retin A? 

A: A common recommendation is to apply Vitamin C serum in the morning with hydroquinone, followed by moisturizer, then strong sun protection. If you experience redness or irritation, you may try applying the Vitamin C serum in the morning and hydroquinone at midday. Apply the tretinoin at night.  Obagi Nu-Derm Sunfader combines Vitamin C and hydroquinone with sunscreen for a one-step morning routine. Just apply the tretinoin at night. 

Q: What types of hyperpigmentation does Hydroquinone 4 treat?

  • Acne scars
  • Post-traumatic inflammatory response (marks left after skin trauma heals)
  • Melasma (AKA pregnancy mask and chloasma)
  • Sun damage
  • Dark spots
  • Discoloration and uneven skin tone
  • Liver spots, AKA age spots
  • Freckles
  • Redness caused by psoriasis and eczema

Q: What does Melasma look like? 

A: Melasma, also called chloasma and pregnancy mask, is a skin condition stemming from hormonal imbalances. Although melasma is greatly exacerbated by sun damage, in order for the condition to be diagnosed as melasma, hormonal influences must be present. trigger.  Melasma is most commonly associated with darkening of skin above the lip and on cheekbones. It can also show as asymmetrical gray and brown spots on high areas of the face, such as cheeks, forehead, nose and other body areas prone to frequent sun exposure. Since hormonal imbalance is the melasma trigger, the skin condition mostly affects women. Men can develop melasma on their arms and shoulders also resulting from a combination of hormones and sun exposure.

Q: What are liver spots or age spots?

A: An overproduction of pigmentation appearing as dark patches or extra large freckles on hands is commonly known as liver spots. Liver spots are mostly attributed to age (that’s why they’re also called age spots) and years of sun exposure.

Test Your Knowledge

Did you Know?

  • Hydroquinone use dates back as far as the 1800s when it was used to develop photos.
  • Natural sources of hydroquinone include leaves of plants like huckleberry (AKA whortleberry), and mountain cranberry, also called bearberry.
  • As we age, gray hairs sprout due to the reduction of melanin production in our body. So, in the case of retaining natural hair color, the desired effect is the opposite of what hydroquinone does. Speed up melanin production to keep gray hair at bay. It can seem like we have our hands full. Luckily we have science on our side!

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