How to Treat Hyperpigmentation and Melasma Without Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone can be irritating, inflammatory, and cytotoxic. Learn about alternative skincare ingredients that can help treat and prevent hyperpigmentation, melasma, and sunspots.
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Top Ingredients to Treat Hyperpigmentation Without Using Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone (HQ) is the most common topical prescription used to treat hyperpigmentation; it has been shown to be extremely effective in the initial reduction of pigment. However, Hydroquinone is not a good long term solution as it has been found it be irritating, inflammatory, and cytotoxic which all leads to accelerated aging within the skin and can even cause unwanted pigment changes after long term use.

There are Hydroquinone products that are over the counter at a lower concentration but I recommend if you are using Hydroquinone to do so carefully under the care of a dermatologist.  There are several ingredients you can introduce into your regimen to reduce unwanted pigment in the skin rather than using Hydroquinone. Keep in mind treating hyperpigmentation of any type requires consistency and patience.

SPF & Sun Protection Can Help Prevent Hyperpigmentation and Melasma

SPF products protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation from the sun. I always recommend a mineral sunblock, as it acts as a physical barrier and isn’t absorbed into the skin, unlike chemical sunscreens that can be irritating to the skin and contain harmful ingredients that are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Look for Zinc Oxide as the main ingredient in a mineral sunblock.

Vitamin C Skincare for Hyperpigmentation

When it comes to hyperpigmentation, using vitamin C is a promising tool to treat and prevent hyperpigmentation. It is an antioxidant, which means it will defend the skin against free radical damage that causes oxidative stress and leads to signs of aging like hyperpigmentation, it does this by interfering with the melanogenesis process.

It is important to find a high-quality vitamin C product with 10%-15% L-ascorbic acid, THD (tetrahexyldecyl) ascorbate or MAP (magnesium ascorybl phosphate). Vitamin E has been proven to enhance the effects of vitamin C and aids in the reduction of pigment.

How Azelaic Acid Can Help

Pharmaceutical strength azelaic acid has been proven to inhibit free radical formation and tyrosinase; it is also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. 10% azelaic acid over the counter products have also been shown to improve hyperpigmentation concerns such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, sun spots, and melasma; the results being equal to 4% pharmaceutical HQ. Kojic acid is another acid that specializes in reducing unwanted pigment within the skin. 

Arbutin

Arbutin is a naturally derived compound of HQ that can be found in bearberry, blueberry, and cranberry. It also inhibits tyrosinase activity and melanosome maturity but is found to be less toxic than HQ. It has been found to be less effective than azelaic or koji acids, in lightening pigment.

Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a superstar ingredient for improving so many skin concerns and that includes treating hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide inhibits melanogenesis by interfering with the communication between skin cells and melanin-producing cells. It is a great additive ingredient to support the effects of both Vitamin C and SPF.

Licorice Extract

Licorice root reduces redness specifically for Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation; the pigmented marks left behind from acne. A component of licorice extract known as Glabridin has also been shown to prevent pigment caused by UVB and is anti-inflammatory. 

Vitamin A Derivatives 

Vitamin A and vitamin A derivatives including cosmeceutical grade retinols inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase, epidermal melanin distribution and encourage skin cell turnover, making it a great tool in treating signs of aging overall as well as aiding in the treatment of melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

If you struggle with hyperpigmentation you can create a cocktail of these ingredients within your skincare regimen. I recommend at the very least using an effective SPF on a daily basis and incorporating a vitamin C serum in the morning and a vitamin A at night. You can then further address your hyperpigmentation by adding in some of these other amazing ingredients! Chat with a Pomp Esthetician who can help create a regimen that will treat your hyperpigmentation concerns.

Nicole Hatfield
NBC HWC & Certified Esthetician, Founder of Radiant Beings Wellness & Beauty Coaching