Top 10 Natural Alternatives to Hydroquinone for Black and Brown Women
If you’re a woman of color dealing with hyperpigmentation, melasma, dark spots or uneven skin tones you’ve probably heard of hydroquinone. You might even have been prescribed it at some point!
Hydroquinone is still prescribed in the US, but it’s become a bit infamous for its controversy and have some people looking for natural alternatives. Keep scrolling as we give you a comprehensive overview of hydroquinone, explain some of the controversy and provide 10 natural alternatives for black and brown women!
What is hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone, aka bleaching cream, is a topical skin lightener that works by suppressing melanin production. Melanin is the component in our skin that gives it it’s pigment, so it’s the molecule that causes dark spots, hyperpigmentation, melasma, and dark circles under your eyes.
It was approved by the FDA in the 80’s but has since been under scrutiny for its safety. Investigation has shown that many skincare products with hydroquinone also “contained contaminants like mercury.”1
However, this was primarily in countries like Australia, Japan and countries in the EU and Africa that had trouble closely overseeing production and preventing smuggling of unsafe products. Hydroquinone can be safe to use for short periods of time but should always be used under the care of a board-certified doctor and obtained from a trusted source—like your pharmacy via a prescription.
Hydroquinone is used to treat skin discoloration disorders, but also acne scars and marks left behind from psoriasis and eczema.
Does hydroquinone lighten skin permanently?
No, any results seen from hydroquinone do not last permanently. Experts typically suggest that you use hydroquinone for a 3–6-month time period, then give your skin a break. With proper sun protection, results can last anywhere from a few months up to a couple of years.
What does hydroquinone do to dark skin?
When used safely in conjunction with tretinoin and a cortisone derivative, hydroquinone can help treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, rashes, other skin inflammation, or melasma on black or brown skin tones.
However, as a woman with brown or black skin, it’s extremely important to stay in close contact with your dermatologist during use. One article shares that hydroquinone “tends to work best on fair skin tones. If you have a medium-to-dark skin tone, talk with your dermatologist before use. Hydroquinone may actually worsen hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones.”1
One of the biggest concerns for dermatologists when prescribing hydroquinone to patients with black and brown skin is the development of exogenous ochronosis. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology shares that prolonged usage of hydroquinone can lead to exogenous ochronosis. https://www.aocd.org/page/Hydroquinone Exogenous ochronosis is a condition that causes the skin to turn blue-black on areas of application which can be very stubborn to treat.
What are the negative effects of hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone has been banned in several countries because some studies have shown it has carcinogenic properties. 4 Additionally, the Environmental Working Group classifies hydroquinone as an 8/10 for toxicity linking it to internal organ damage.6
Top 10 Natural Alternatives to Hydroquinone for Darker Skin Tones
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a hero ingredient for so many skin concerns, one of the tops being hyperpigmentation and dark spots. Vitamin C is packed with antioxidants and can help reverse sun damage and therefore has powerful brightening properties.
Bamboo Charcoal Powder – You’ve probably seen the trendy charcoal teeth whitening toothpastes, but did you know it can help brighten your skin as well? Charcoal powder acts as both a detoxifier and gentle exfoliant to safely reveal brighter, healthier skin.
Licorice Root Extract – Licorice root is an unsung powerhouse in the skincare industry. Studies have shown that it contains antioxidant, skin-whitening, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne AND eczema-healing properties.4 Needless to say, it seems there’s nothing it can’t do.
Kojic Extract – Similarly to vitamin C, kojic extract can help heal sun damage but it also helps lighten the skin by decreasing melanin production.
Shea Butter – Packed with vitamin E, shea butter actively works to reverse sun damage, oxidative stress and regenerate new skin to leave you with a lighter and brighter complexion!
Gotu Kola – Composed of centelloids, flavonoids and tannins, this plant extract works to inhibit melanin production. One 2010 study showed that using products with gotu kola decreased melanin production by over 70%.5
Jojoba Oil—Just like shea butter, jojoba oil is packed with vitamin E to help brighten dark spots and hyperpigmentation—especially if it’s related to sun damage.
Green Tea – We all know how powerful green tea’s antioxidants are when ingested, but they can also help when applied topically just like vitamin C! Added bonus? Green tea also has anti-inflammatory properties so can soothe redness and irritation as well.
Tea Tree Oil – Another skincare super ingredient. Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Aloe Vera – We all know aloe vera is soothing and moisturizing for treating too much sun exposure, but it also contains “a natural depigmenting compound” called aloin which safely lightens your skin.3
For a natural and organic hydroquinone free brightening product check out our Natural Complexion Brighetning Creme
Also, shop our favorite brightening trio Vitamin C Facial Cleanser, Vitamin C Ferulic Serum and the Vitamin C Moisturizing Lotion.
CLICK THIS IMAGE TO SEE THE VITAMIN C TRIO
Hydroquinone - American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD)
- Cherney, Kristeen. “Hydroquinone: Uses, Safety, Side Effects, OTC Products, Alternatives.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 15 Feb. 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/hydroquinone#safe-for-all-skin-types.
- Ciganović, Petar, et al. “Glycerolic Licorice Extracts as Active Cosmeceutical Ingredients: Extraction Optimization, Chemical Characterization, and Biological Activity.” Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 1 Oct. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826613/.
- Cirino, Erica. “Aloe Vera for Dark Spots on the Skin: Does It Work?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 7 Feb. 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/skin/aloe-vera-for-dark-spots.
- D;, McGregor. “Hydroquinone: An Evaluation of the Human Risks from Its Carcinogenic and Mutagenic Properties.” Critical Reviews in Toxicology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18027166/.
Enhancement of Skin-Whitening and UV-Protective Effects of Centella ... https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264032205_Enhancement_of_Skin-Whitening_and_UV-Protective_Effects_of_Centella_asiatica_L_Urban_by_Utrasonification_Process.
- “Ewg Skin Deep®: What Is Hydroquinone.” EWG, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/703041-HYDROQUINONE/.