If you have dark spots, hyperpigmentation, acne scars, or any other skin discoloration — first of all, that’s completely normal. Very few people have perfect skin. But if you’d like to lessen the appearance of a blemish or discoloration on the skin, hydroquinone is pretty much the holy grail of skin-lightening ingredients.
Up to a 2% concentration of hydroquinone is allowed in over-the-counter products. If you need a higher concentration, you’ll have to obtain a prescription. But non-prescription products can be remarkably effective at combating a variety of skin concerns, and we’ve compiled a list of some of the best hydroquinone creams for skin lightening available today.
But how does hydroquinone work? It contains enzymes that prevent the production of melanin — the substance that produces your skin tone. Simply put, the more melanin is concentrated in a certain area on your skin, the darker that area will be.
Things like scars and dark spots contain a higher concentration of melanin than in the rest of your skin. When you apply hydroquinone to those areas, it inhibits melanin from being produced, which can lighten the skin over time.
Now, to be clear, none of these creams are meant to lighten the overall tone of your skin. They are strictly formulated as spot treatments, to reduce the appearance of dark spots and skin discoloration on your face or body. Read on to learn which skin creams we recommend.
8 Best Hydroquinone Creams
1. Admire My Skin 2% Hydroquinone Fade Cream
This skin cream has a reputation as one of the most effective on the market for lightening skin. In addition, it can also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Besides the 2% hydroquinone, it also contains a mixture of salicylic acid, azelaic acid, lactic acid, kojic acid, and Vitamin C to gently exfoliate away dead skin cells and reveals younger, brighter looking skin underneath.
And that’s not just a figure of speech. With this product, dark spots will literally peel off, and you’ll see your skin tone evening out within four weeks.
You can use this cream once or twice a day — or as recommended by your doctor, if you’re working with a dermatologist to create a skincare routine. It is suitable for use on your face as well as your body, although some users have reported a stinging sensation upon application.
2. Paula’s Choice RESIST Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser
The “triple action” that this product’s name alludes to is the winning combo of 2% hydroquinone, 7% glycolic acid, and a mixture of antioxidants to nurture and rejuvenate the skin, and fight signs of aging. And that’s only the beginning of the benefits of using this product. It contains licorice extract and allantoin, which soothe redness and reduce the size of pores for a smoother, more even overall look to your skin.
It’s also free of parabens and added fragrances, so this is an excellent choice if you have any sensitivities to fragrances. It is also sheer and lightweight so that it absorbs easily into the skin without leaving any sticky or greasy residue.
It can even act as a mild cleanser to the skin – although we wouldn’t recommend using it as a cleanser regularly, as it can start to affect the pigment of your skin if applied outside of the specific dark spots you intend to target.
3. Alpha Skin Care Dual Action Skin Lightener
This skin cream from Alpha Skin Care packs a lot into a small bottle. In addition to 2% hydroquinone, it also contains hyaluronic acid, which is a powerful moisturizer and anti-aging ingredient.
This works well to counteract the dryness and flakiness that hydroquinone can sometimes cause as it works its magic. Glycolic AHA, which is derived from sugar cane, is a fantastic exfoliator that helps strip away dead skin cells while also encouraging the production of collagen for plumper, younger-looking skin.
It is also paraben-free and pH-balanced – meaning the pH of the cream matches the ideal pH of your skin, which can help bring your skin back into a healthy pH range.
Now, because this cream is so moisturizing, it’s not ideal for oily or acne-prone skin. It can increase the chance of a breakout by locking in too much of the skin’s natural oils, which can clog up your pores. But if you have dry skin and want to fight dark spots without adding to the dryness, this cream may just be exactly what you need.
4. Divine Derriere Skin Lightening 2% Hydroquinone
Two ingredients you should be getting very familiar with by now are hydroquinone and glycolic acid. This cream contains both, as well as a number of other powerful ingredients.
Lactic acid and vitamin C nourish the skin, lecithin adds moisture, and B-White peptide helps along the lightening process, letting you see results within a few weeks. In addition, Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and a protective ingredient, helping skin to heal more quickly after being sunburned or dehydrated.
It’s formulated to be used all over the face and body, wherever you may happen to have discoloration. However, if you have sensitive skin this is another product that may sting a bit when you apply it.
5. Melloderm Anti-Melasma Hydroquinone 2% Cream
This particular cream was designed as a night cream, for use once per day as part of your evening routine. It is effective against a wide range of skin discoloration issues, including melasma, dark spots, and freckles.
It takes a little longer to show results than some of the other products on this list, but it will be worth the wait when you see your skin tone beginning to even out. This formula is also not suitable for sensitive skin, so keep that in mind.
And as with all hydroquinone creams, it can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sun damage, so always be sure to wear sunscreen when going out. All that said, this is another great option for lightening your skin!
6. MD Complete Anti-Aging Dark Spot Corrector
The final product on our list is another one that packs a lot of effects into one product. Because who doesn’t love a good multitasker? This product includes Borage extract, also known as “bee bread”, which is an effective anti-inflammatory thanks to the gamma-linoleic acid it contains.
This helps counteract the irritation that can sometimes come with hydroquinone use, leaving your skin not only brighter, but healthier as well. It also includes vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha arbutin, all of which we’ve sung the praises of earlier in the article, as well as phytonutrients to help nourish your skin. Softer, brighter, healthier skin is only a few weeks away when you use this product!
Hydroquinone Alternative for Those With Sensitive Skin
During our tests, we found some products that are more suitable for those with easily irritated skin. These products do not contain hydroquinone, so they’re gentle on the skin.
7. Murad Dark Spot Correcting Serum
If you have sensitive skin but still want the skin-lightening benefits, this is a fantastic choice for you. Its cruelty-free formula leaves out harsh ingredients, like parabens, phthalates, gluten, mineral oil, formaldehyde, oxybenzone, and petroleum.
This ultra-gentle product works well on all skin types. It’s packed with glycolic acid that exfoliates the skin, and tranexamic acid that brightens and even out skin tone.
Massage this serum after cleansing, followed by sunscreen in the morning, and a moisturizer in the evening. After all, exposure to sunlight stimulates the production of melanin, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays.
This product gave fantastic results, and that’s why our editors absolutely love it. However, it’s a bit more expensive than other products.
8. Melina Organics Intimate Whitening Gel
This gel is safe for use in intimate areas, and as such, it is the gentlest formula on this list. It contains alpha-arbutin, which is a natural skin-lightening ingredient extracted from berries and is less harsh than hydroquinone.
All of this makes this formula extremely easy on the skin, and suitable for use not only on your intimate parts but also on your face or anywhere else on your body.
This product also contains natural extracts such as aloe vera, mulberry extracts, green tea extracts, citric acid, and lemon essential oil, which work together to soothe and brighten the skin safely and naturally.
This gentle but effective gel comes highly rated by satisfied users who swear by it — the only downside we could find was that it does leave a strong smell that some users find unpleasant. But that small inconvenience may just be worth the results.
Any of the products on this list would give you good results, but there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the best hydroquinone cream for your needs. First, consult a doctor or dermatologist if you have any skin allergies or conditions, as hydroquinone can occasionally make those worse.
And even once you’re cleared to use one of these creams, it’s not recommended that you use any product containing hydroquinone for longer than three months at a time. So if you have severe discoloration that may take a while to clear up, it may be wise to choose one of the faster-acting creams. And of course, consider your skin type.
Not all products are suitable for all skin types, so read all labels carefully before choosing a cream.
We hope this article gave you a solid starting place in your search for the perfect skin-lightening cream. And from here on out, the future of your skin looks bright!