Just Because It’s Natural Doesn’t Always Mean It’s Safe

By now most of you are pretty well informed about the dangers of using topically applied hydroquinone to lighten dark spots, even skin tone and improve the appearance of melasma and PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). The reason that lightening dark spots has become of increasing importance in the world of cosmetics is that a recent series of surveys regarding aging the vast majority of people interviewed identified brown spots and not wrinkles as their biggest concern when it came to aging. It stands to reason that the demand for skin lightening products will continue to rise.

Cosmetic manufacturers are meeting the rapid demand for skin lighteners with products often boasting ingredients that are natural with rapid clinical results. Careful analysis regarding their claims need, however, to be critically analyzed.

The vilification of hydroquinone appears to be well justified. Chemically, hydroquinone is a benzo (a) pyrene and benzene is a human carcinogen, that is a substance that has the potential to cause cancer in human beings. The metabolic activation of these compounds into ultimate mutation causing or cancer causing metabolites is a prerequisite for their ability to cause cancer. It has been established in the medical literature going back to 2010 that the chronic use of skin lightening agents containing hydroquinone have been responsible for both squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma of the skin with two deaths being reported.

In an attempt to create skin lightening products that are hydroquinone free yet clinically effective cosmetic manufacturers have turned to using natural botanical ingredients that they claim lighten dark spots in just two weeks. However, just because it is natural does not necessarily make a product is safe. For example, many of these products contain ingredients like arbutin, bearberry, blueberry, cranberry and Siberian tea extracts to lighten skin. The problem however, resides in the chemistry of these botanicals. When these so called effective ingredients are applied to the skin they begin to oxidize, transforming into hydroquinone metabolites which, as previously shown, are responsible for cancer causing mutatuions.

Further examination of claims made by these skin lightening products that “you can begin to see results in two weeks” are dubious at best. First of all, dark spots that have taken years to form either as a result of repeated sun damage or the normal aging process are NOT going to improve in two weeks. They took years to form and are not going to go away overnight. These claims are made using subjective data and not objective data obtained from product users regarding their dark spots and areas of hyperpigmentation. Subjective data uses questionnaires supplied to patients asking them if they THINK their dark spots are lighter. It is based purely on opinion and not scientific evaluation. Objective data employs scientific instruments like the C&Z MPA multiple skin analyzer that actually measures the degree of pigmentation in the skin.

In conclusion, dark spots continue to represent the most significant problem consumers complain about in regards to aging. Although hydroquinone has for years been the gold standard for skin lightening it has now been shown that it is not without significant risk. The only natural ingredient that has been shown to be as effective as hydroquinone is a nonanedioic acid derived from certain fruits and grains known as Azelaic Acid. It is natural, effective and safe for use during pregnancy. In addition to its ability to SAFELY lighten darks spots it has also been shown to be effective for treating acne and rosacea in certain preparations. But be forewarned, your dark spots didn’t form overnight and will take at least 45 to 60 days until you begin to see any significant results.