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Hydroquinone – Everything You Need to Know

Hydroquinone (HQ) is the gold standard treatment for treating various forms of hyperpigmentation such as hormone-related melasma, post-inflammatory pigmentation and sun damage.

How does it work?

To understand how hydroquinone bleaching works, it is important to first have look at how melanin is formed. Melanin production in the skin starts with the oxidation of amino acids tyrosine and L-DOPA, catalysed by the enzyme tyrosinase. Since hydroquinone’s structure resembles that of tyrosine and L-DOPA, having it present means tyrosinase will grab hold of the hydroquinone instead of tyrosine. As a result, there’s less tyrosinase available for transforming tyrosine and L-DOPA which slows down melanin production.

By slowing down melanin production, skin becomes more evenly toned over time and dark pigmentation patches fade.

Although hydroquinone can be very effective for a number of indications, prolonged use can cause serious side effects that are hard to reverse.

Resistance

Using hydroquinone for more than six months leads to resistance to its lightening effects for more patients. After this period, the treatment no longer affects the dark spots of melasma and its bleaching effects appear more pronounced in unaffected areas.

As the active melanocytes in the affected regions can no longer be influenced by hydroquinone, hyperpigmentation in these areas can worsen.

Ochronosis

In rare, severe cases the prolonged use of high-concentration hydroquinone can lead to intense blue-black pigmentation. Ochronosis is more common among darker skin tones.

Skin Sensitivity

Hydroquinone can be harsh on the skin. Many HQ crèmes are formulated with retinoic acid to enhance hydroquinone’s bleaching efficacy, however, in some patients this combination can lead to irritant contact dermatitis.

Skin Atrophy and Telangiectasia

Some of the side effects with hydroquinone don’t even come from hydroquinone itself. A number of products on the market combine hydroquinone with ingredients such as retinoic acid, glycolic acid and topical steroids. However, prolonged use of such product can create a myriad of additional issues. For example, the combination of HQ, tretinoin and fluocinolone can lead to skin atrophy, telangiectasia and more stubborn pigmentation.

Topical steroids in HQ crèmes aim to suppress inflammation. However, topical steroids are effective only when treating trauma or disease – induced pigmentation (PIH). Therefore, topical steroids must be avoided when treating pigmentation not caused by inflammation such as melasma.

What are the alternatives?

Non-hydroquinone brightening agents can the prescribed as a healthy, maintenance system and to avoid local or systematic side effects associated with long-term HQ use.

ZO Skin Health offers comprehensive non-hydroquinone brightening system, designed for the treatment of non-specific discoloration (freckles, liver spots, uneven skin tone), prevent new spots for forming and improve skin texture.

Hydrating Cleanser

hydroquinone alternatives gentle cleanser

Formulated with sodium lauroyl amino acids and botalnic blend extracts, this gentle formula revives the skin barrier and cleanses without drying.

Exfoliating Polish

hydroquinone alternatives exfoliating polish

Featuring vitamins A, C, E and ultrafine magnesium crystals, ZO Exfoliating Polish improves skin texture, stimulates healthy circulation and provides powerful antioxidant boost.

Complexion Renewal Pads

hydroquinone alternatives complexion renewal pads

Soaked in a combination of 2% salicylic acid, glycolic acid and botanical extracts, Complexion Renewal Pads offer dual-chemical exfoliation to remove dead skin cells, reduce oiliness and fade post-inflammatory pigmentation.

Brightalive Non-Retinol Skin Brightener

hydroquinone alternatives brightalive

Brightalive uses multi-vectored skin brightening approach to minimise the appearance of spots and uneven skin tone, while preventing new pigmentation from forming. Formulated with the exclusive ZOX12™ slow-release antioxidant complex, liquorice root, natural enzymes and ultra-stable vitamin C. Mild enough for everyday use.

Daily Power Defense

hydroquinone alternatives daily power defense

Daily Power Defense is formulated with ultrasomes and roxisomes enzymes that initiate and speed DNA repair to enhance skin’s natural healing mechanism and protect against oxidative damage. Ceramides help restore lipid balance and strengthen the skin barrier system, while low-concentration retinol stimulates epidermal renewal and collagen production.

Is Your Smartphone Damaging Your Skin?

There is constant discussion on whether smartphones are detrimental to your emotional and mental health but smartphones could also be harmful to your skin health. Other than the spread of bacteria when you place your phone on your skin, new studies suggest that the HEV light emitted from your phone could cause premature ageing.

HEV light damage

What is HEV Light?

HEV light is short for high energy visible light. It appears blue in colour and is very close to UV light on the electromagnetic spectrum. You are exposed to it from the sun’s rays and from everyday technological gadgets. Mobile phones, computer screens and laptops all produce HEV light.

How Does it Damage the Skin?

It is still not known what exact effect this light has on the skin. However, in susceptible individuals, prolonged chronic exposure to HEV and UV light can lead to non-specific discolouration.  The electromagnetic spectrum can affect the intracellular minerals and their movement out and into the cells. This may lead to cellular dysfunctions.

Dr Obagi explains, “with chronic and long exposure the light from cell phones can cause damage to the texture of the skin. In my experience, I have been able to tell which hand a patient holds their phone in, as the skin takes on a dull, almost dirty texture, which has not been induced by the sun.”

HEV light damage

Ways to Combat HEV Light Damage

Dr Obagi insists that a DNA repairing agent and an antioxidant are necessary to encourage skin’s defence mechanisms against HEV light damage.

“I recommend ZO Skin Health Ossential Daily Power Defense as it uses DNA repair enzymes to enhance your skin’s recovery capabilities, regulate cellular functions and increases skin tolerance and immunity to UV radiation. Skin needs to be encouraged to defend itself. The special enzymes attach directly to your own DNA molecules and repair oxidative damage. It contains time-released retinol, enzymes and antioxidants to repair damaged cells and protect against future damage.

A new breakthrough: Liposhield HEV Melanin

Melanin occurs naturally in the human body. Melanocytes release it into the skin as the first line of defence against exposure to harmful light waves.  Liposhield HEV Melanin is a novel, patent pending ingredient. It is the first cosmetic ingredient designed to protect the skin from damaging high energy visible light.

Liposhield HEV Melanin is a fractionated melanin designed to be used topically as an additional defence. It shields the skin from high energy blue/violet visible light (HEV) that may induce premature ageing. Red visible light is deemed to have beneficial effects, and Liposhield HEV Melanin is tailored so that red light can be transmitted to the skin.HEV light damage

Dr Zein Obagi elaborates; “we have been able to successfully incorporate this breakthrough ingredient into a novel formulation while maintaining its efficacy. ZO Skin Health Oclipse® Smart Tone Broad Spectrum SPF50 is a highly advanced broad spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen designed to blend into almost any skin tone. Patented, customisable colour beads utilising a comprehensive UVA/UVB photostable sun protection system helps provide daily protection from damaging ultra violet rays, while fractionated melanin helps shield against HEV light damage. The addition of Vitamin C helps to achieve an even-toned complexion by inhibiting pigment formation, and we have enriched the formulation with skin conditioners to improve skin texture.”

The ZO Skin Health Oclipse® Smart Tone Broad Spectrum SPF50 also helps prevent future oxidative stress with DNA repair and protection. It also minimises the irritants that can cause skin redness. It has an exclusive 12-hour time release antioxidant system to help guard against photo-damage. What’s more, the sunscreen restores hydration with skin conditioners that aid in strengthening the skin barrier.

Dr Obagi believes “that this novel ingredient represents the future of sun protection.”

Always at the cutting edge of science and innovation, Oclipse® Smart Tone Broad Spectrum SPF50 first launched 5 years ago with this patented and unique ingredient and in 2017 has introduced a new sunscreen the Oclipse® Daily Sheer SPF 50. This is the next step in sun protection shielding skin from HEV light damage, providing broad-spectrum UV protection but also formulated to be recreational-friendly. A non-greasy, perspiration and water-resistant sunscreen that blends seamlessly into the skin as a sheer matte finish. Swim and sweat this summer without worrying about your sunscreen washing away!

What is Hydroquinone?

hyperpigmentation3

What are the cosmetic uses of hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is used to treat sunspots and hyperpigmentation and when used via Dr. Zein Obagi’s extensively researched guidelines, the results are extremely simple, effective and safe. It should always be prescribed by a trained and qualified Medical Practitioner and should not from any source other than a Pharmacy with a legal prescription from a Medical Practitioner.

Through an entire Hydroquinone treatment, it is advised to use a non-Hydroquinone product alongside it. Furthermore, Hydroquinone should not be used for any longer than four to five month, with at least twelve weeks given for the skin and melanocytes to stabilise. It is also recommended that a Non-Hydroquinone product continue to be used to help in stabilising and controlling the melanocytes activity. If, however, the pigmentation increases post-treatment, you could consider another pulse treatment for another four to five months. Although, it is advised that the Hydroquinone be combined with a Retinoic acid to limit skin bleaching and to help even out the colour and tone of the skin. Additionally, it is recommended that a product with botanical anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants like the Daily Power Defense be used, to assist in stabilizing the melanocytes and suppress the triggers of pigmentation, such as sun exposure or inflammation.

It is important to note that using excessive Hydroquinone concentration can cause many problems from unmanageable hyperpigmentation to toxic effects such as acute skin inflammation and melanocyte hyperactivity, leading to rebound hyperpigmentation.


Source: Dr. Sam van Eeden, MD, ‘Hydroquinone: Wolf in Sheep’s clothing?’ in Body Language Journal