Hydroquinone is a commonly used “bleaching agent” used to lighten the skin. It is often used by women seeking a lighter complexion and may be recommended for people with melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, freckles, or other skin conditions that cause dark patches or spots. Hydroquinone works by causing the skin cells to stop producing pigment (melanin).
Hydroquinone is available as a 2% formulation without a prescription. Your doctor may recommend this lower concentration in some circumstances, such as maintenance therapy.
Other times a 4% formulation may be recommended, particularly to treat patches of darker skin. This stronger formulation is available by prescription only. Brand names of prescription-strength hydroquinone products include Glyquin, Lustra-AF, and Tri-Luma (hydroquinone combined with other medications).
It takes at least 7 to 10 days for the skin to begin to lighten. The full effects of the medication may not be seen for several months.
Use hydroquinone once or twice a day after gently cleaning your face, as directed by your doctor. Apply the medicine to all of the discolored area and include about a half-inch of normal skin around the edges. Do not apply the medicine to the corners of your nose, mouth, or eyes.
Avoid sun exposure while using hydroquinone and for an indefinite period after treatment. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day to protect your face from the harmful rays of the sun. If you go outside, wear protective clothing, including a hat. Even a few minutes in the sun can cause the skin to darken and counteract the effects of the medication.
Avoid other skin-care products that may dry or irritate your skin. These include soaps and cleansers that are rough or contain fragrances.
Contact your doctor if you are concerned about how your skin is reacting to hydroquinone.