Skin Lightening Overview

Skin lightening is a treatment option for hyperpigmentation, or darkened areas of skin in the form of melasma, age spots, and sometimes freckles, and is often sought to repair sun-damaged skin.

In some cultures, skin lightening, or whitening, is considered the path to achieving a pale or lighter skin tone and color. Individuals usually lighten skin through topical skin bleaching with topical chemicals, although certain cosmetic procedures, including chemical peels, may also be able to lighten a person's complexion.

These treatments can lighten skin:

Vi Peel: Doctors on RealSelf report treating darkly pigmented areas of the face and body with the Vi Peel, a chemical peel formula with a combination of ingredients that work to achieve the skin improvement desired.

Topical hydroquinone: Also called HQ, this is one of the most popular agents for bleaching skin and can reduce the appearance of conditions including melasma or chloasma. It is frequently combined with Retin-A to enhance its bleaching effects. Both these can be irritating to the skin so your doctor may prescribe some topical steroids to minimize inflammation. HQ has a long history of being safe when correctly applied, but should not be used if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. 

HQ products are also available over the counter in weaker concentrations of 2%, which can be effective for mild cases of hyperpigmentation. As a prescribed medication, HQ is commonly prepared in 3-7% concentrations. Here are a few quick facts and tips about HQ.

  • When using HQ, it is crucial to avoid sun exposure and always use sunscreen.
  • Notify your doctor of any other medical conditions, especially kidney or liver disease.
  • HQ can cause skin irritation and should be avoided if you have inflammatory skin conditions.
  • In 2007, the FDA generated negative publicity when it considered recalling the product due to concerns with cancer and ochronosis, or a pigmented condition of the skin. The reports were sufficiently rare enough that the FDA abandoned the recall.


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