Hyperpigmentation of the skin is a very common condition. The causes can be very different, and so can the way it is experienced by people. The beauty industry constantly suggests, especially to women, that having a perfect (white) skin is essential. It is not. But still, everyone should be able to self-determine the way they want to appear to the outside world. If your wish is to gain confidence and empower yourself by being in control of your skin and body, don’t hesitate but be informed. Also, consulting your dermatologist is very recommended.
Since this is a widespread condition, the skin care industry has come up with numerous solutions. Surfing the internet you can find all kinds of things. That is why you may find yourself lost. You might have heard of either mequinol or hydroquinone. So, what is the best option for skin spots? Let’s dig into it!
Which one is better for skin lightening
When it comes to cosmetics and drug products, the truth is there’s no such thing as the perfect skin care product. Every skin is different, unique, and reacts differently to different products. Hydroquinone and mequinol are actually in quite a close relationship. They’re partially similar, for what concerns both benefits and immediate side effects. Mequinol is in fact a derivative of hydroquinone itself! Although the results and the way they work are quite akin, mequinol is less likely to give you side effects. We’re talking about skin irritation, dryness, depigmentation, etc. Mequinol is in fact slightly more gentle than hydroquinone.
To be honest, generally speaking, hydroquinone is quite well tolerated by all sorts of skins. But there are some cases where you should be more careful. If your skin is dry or sensitive, hydroquinone might make it even drier! Also, hydroquinone tends to work better with lighter skin tones and might end up worsening hyperpigmentation in darker ones.
If you want to be really sure of what the best option for your needs is, please ask the consultation of a dermatologist and be safe. Also take into account that in some countries the sale of these products is illegal. Such is the case of the European Union, Australia and Japan.
Find out more
First things first, what is hyperpigmentation? It’s a dermatological condition that occurs when there’s an increase of melanin in some areas of the skin, whether it is localised or diffuse, caused by genetics, illnesses or injuries. It might be caused by…
- melasma (which appears to be originated by hormonal alterations),
- sunspots (due to long and continued exposure to sunlight),
- post inflammatory reactions or scars, after an injury, severe acne, psoriasis or eczema.
Shall we make an in depth comparison and analysis of the two main competitors against skin blemishes? Read below!
Hydroquinone is a phenol that occurs naturally in a variety of plants. You may also know it by the name of arbutin, which is its derivative in a mono-glycosidic form. Hydroquinone is used against skin blemishes resulting from sun exposure or skin ageing. This means it can be helpful in treating hyperpigmentation. This is why hydroquinone is often used in treatments to address skin photo-ageing. You will often find it combined with antioxidants or anti-ageing agents such as vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and tretinoin.
How does hydroquinone work? As we mentioned, we’re talking about a phenol, which works by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, involved in the melanin synthesis. So it decreases the number of melanocytes that produce the melanin (which affects your skin tone).
Hydroquinone is not a definitive solution. The effect is reversible: once you stop it, melanin production will start all over again. Consistency is key, but you don’t want to use it all life long. So, make sure your treatment won’t last more than four months in a row.
What are the side effects of hydroquinone? We made it clear: especially when large amounts are involved, hydroquinone can lead to significant side effects. Such as itching and burning, dermatitis, skin cytotoxicity, darkening of the treated area, excessive depigmentation and skin dryness. Or at least this is the worst case scenario, which is more likely when your skin is super sensitive! It might also happen that once your skin gets used to the product, the side effects will ease.
Mequinol is probably the main alternative to hydroquinone (it’s actually its derivative) for skin lightening. You may have heard of it also as methoxyphenol or as 4-hydroxyanisole hydroquinone monomethyl ether, and p-hydroxyanisole.
How does mequinol work? The mechanism of action of mequinol is not yet fully understood. When applied to the affected areas of the skin, it appears to be able to target the melanocytes – the cells responsible for melanin production -. That means that its action is similar to hydroquinone. When mimicking tyrosine, it reduces tyrosinase’s ability to produce melanin. Mequinol usually comes at a concentration of 2%, often associated with tretinoin for a better skin penetration.
What are the side effects of mequinol? Although mequinol is usually better tolerated by different types of skin, side effects have been reported. We’re talking about partially similar possible side effects to those of hydroquinone: redness, skin peeling, discoloration, itchiness, dryness and swelling. Possible side effects means it can happen; it doesn’t mean it will happen.
The efficacy of skin lighteners
Skin lighteners are very popular among non-white (bipoc and Asian) people for non medical reasons and this is due to an obvious white standard of beauty, that has spread around the world. Despite this, there is less research on the efficacy and safety of these products on darker skin types rather than there is on the caucasian population. However, mequinol and hydroquinone seem to be widely appreciated, effective and pretty much safe.
Keep in mind that the effectiveness of these products is not necessarily linked to abundance. Use only what you need and when you need it; an excessive use is not only useless, but can be harmful.
How to use them
The first thing you want to do is a patch test. It’s important to be sure whether your skin is going to react badly to the product. Rub a small amount of it on your forearm, cover it with a piece of cloth or a bandage. Wait 24 hours. If you experience itchiness, redness or other side effects, call your doctor and immediately stop the treatment. If you don’t… congratulations, you’ve implemented your skin care routine!
Both mequinol and hydroquinone are meant to be used where they’re needed. Apply them on the hyperpigmented spots only. Follow these steps:
- Read the instructions and make sure you fully understand them. If you’re in doubt, ask your doctor for clarifications.
- Test your skin reaction (read above).
- Cleanse your skin, possibly with a gentle detergent.
- Apply mequinol or hydroquinone using the applicator tip.
- Wash your hands straight away and any other areas of your skin that weren’t meant to be in contact with the product.
- Put your moisturizer on and, finally, a good amount of sunscreen.
It’s essential to protect your skin from sun exposure, especially during these kinds of treatments. The risk is to get the opposite result than intended. It’s not what you want, isn’t it? Finally, be consistent, but don’t rely on it as a lifelong solution. If you happen to get some of the product on your eyes, nose, mouth, genitalia or open wounds, please rinse it immediately.
Try to avoid showering or bathing for at least 6 hours after applying mequinol or hydroquinone and wait at least 30 minutes before you do your makeup (if you do).
For frequency and amount it certainly depends on the reasons why you are using such products, on its percentage of active ingredient, on your age and on your skin sensitivity. In most cases twice applications per day (mornings and nights) should be enough.
Some final words
Both mequinol and hydroquinone are valid solutions, but it really depends on your skin type, sensitivity and geographical region (as we said hydroquinone is not legal everywhere). Be safe and well informed and don’t hesitate to ask your dermatologist for a consultation to deeply discover and understand what you are doing and what best applies to you and your needs.