Hydroquinone Cream and Acne Scars: Can it Help Fade Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation?

Hydroquinone cream is a commonly prescribed treatment for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) besides retinoids and azelaic acid. The cream works by blocking the tyrosinase enzyme. Hydroquinone signals your skin to produce less melanin while removing excess pigment from the affected area.

Dermatologists believe that applying 4% Hydroquinone once or twice daily for 3-6 months can surely help in fading post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

Now, if you are wondering if your scars are caused by PIH, here is a brief description of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and its causes.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and its causes

PIH is a type of hyperpigmentation that affects the way the skin regenerates after an inflammation. 

When your skin cells are damaged by inflammation from pimples or acne, the tyrosinase enzyme releases tyrosine, which overproduces melanin in the body. This is why the affected area gets darker or scarred after a breakout. PIH appears in the form of dark patches of hyper coloration on your face and body, especially at places of pimple/acne and UV- exposure.

The degree of darkness of the affected area depends on the type and complexion of your skin. For instance, Caucasians often witness their skin turning pink to red. Meanwhile, if you have lighter brown or darker brown skin, it will turn close to the shades of black. 

The condition affects both men and women, irrespective of their skin type. Although, people with darker skin tones are very much at the receiving end. 

While acne and pimples remain the main cause of PIH, you can also get it through botched skin treatments during Dermabrasion, laser therapy, and chemical peels. 

Hydroquinone: The first line of treatment for PIH

If you recall your old chemistry lessons, you will remember the mention of Hydroquinone as a phenolic bleaching compound. It is used to prevent or suppress melanin production in the skin. That is why it is a wide-used topical treatment for various hyperpigmentation issues like melasma, age spots, freckles, and, of course, PIH.

Of all the various reasons behind hyperpigmentation, hormonal shift and sun exposure remains at the top. What happens in PIH is that the regenerated skin after an inflammation doesn’t match with the surrounding skin. This is because the inflammation triggers an overproduction of melanin in the area, leading to dark patches. 

Hydroquinone cream australia is often used as the first line of treatment for Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation by dermatologists. This is due to the fact that the drug targets the root cause of the issues rather than treating the surface.

Besides inhibiting melanin production in the body, Hydroquinone increases the shedding speed of dead skin cells, allowing older keratin-producing cells to shed faster. This allows your body to regenerate new layers of skin without any increase in pigmentation.

On top of that, Hydroquinone is known to penetrate deeper into the skin’s layers. As it removes melanin from the deepest layers of the skin, you won’t notice any darker skin when the new skin regenerates. 

The drug is available in various forms, such as creams, lotions, gels, and emulsions, and is mostly available over the counter and through prescription. The ingredient strength available in OTC versions usually lies between 1-2 % concentration, but for targeting tough discoloration and darker areas, you need a concentration of at least 4-6%, which is only available through doctor’s prescription and consultation. 

How to use Hydroquinone cream for Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and acne scars

Now that you know the working mechanism of Hydroquinone and its skincare benefits, let’s learn how to reap its benefits.

While we strongly recommend you follow your dermatologist’s guidance, we have mentioned the appropriate way to apply hydroquinone cream in an easy-to-follow step-by-step procedure.

Note: Before you buy hydroquinone cream, make sure you consult your dermatologist, as skin darkening can be caused by underlying issues besides acne and sun exposure. Your doctor will thoroughly assess your condition and decide whether Hydroquinone is the way to go or if there is a better alternative.

Step 1: Start with a patch test

Like any other medication, Hydroquinone can also cause allergic reactions in some people. Therefore, it’s a good idea to perform a patch test before applying the cream to a larger section of the face and body. Take a small amount of the cream and apply it on your wrist and wait for at least 24 hours. If you don’t see any reddening, itching, or other signs of allergy in the applied area, you are safe to use Hydroquinone on your face.

Step 2: cleanse and apply

Wash your face with a mild cleanser or non-perfumed face wash. Pat the skin dry and apply a thin layer of Hydroquinone on the affected area. At the same time, you must remember that it is not a beauty cream, so don’t go overboard. 

Apply it only on dark patches or post-acne dark spots. Make sure you don’t apply it on other parts of the skin, even if you are tempted to lighten your whole face.

Also, wait for at least half an hour, letting the cream fully absorb in the skin before applying any moisturizer, sunscreen, or makeup.

Step 3: Repeat-stop-repeat

Continue using the treatment 1-2 times daily. Generally, dermatologists recommend it for use no more than three months, but in certain cases, you may continue using it for up to six months. 

For instance, if your scars are bigger and cover a large part of the face, try using it for a short period of up to 2-3 months, take a break for a couple of weeks or months, and use it again. The break is necessary as Hydroquinone is a steroid; it can get your body getting used to it. 

Meanwhile, if your scar is much darker but is limited to a small area, you may use the cream for a longer area. 

Additional skincare tips to follow before using Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is an FDA-approved skin treatment that is safer than most steroids. However, you must take care of certain things before using the cream:

Hydroquinone makes your skin vulnerable to sun damage. So, avoid going out in the daytime while you are on the drug. A safe alternative is to lather your face with sunscreen lotion and wear sun protection gear like an umbrella and hat while going out.

Hydroquinone is absorbed through your skin and may affect unborn fetus or may get transferred to baby through milk. So, don’t use it if you are planning to get pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Don’t use it with skincare products like hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide. 

While it has fewer side effects, you may notice some mild irritation, dryness, and redness on your skin. This usually goes away as your skin gets adjusted to the new routine, but you must contact your doctor if the condition persists or worsens.

Hydroquinone therapy for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation secondary to acne: not just prescribable by dermatologists – PubMed (nih.gov)

Managing Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation in Patients with Acne – PMC (nih.gov)

Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)

Hyperpigmentation | post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation | Eucerin

Hydroquinone Acne Scar | Apostrophe | Apostrophe

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