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Hydroquinone Report

The changing face of America highlights the importance of understanding dermatologic conditions of skin of color. Hyperpigmentation is the most common and distressing condition afflicting this unique subset of the population. Disorders of hyperpigmentation are difficult to treat. Ideal skin lightening cosmeceuticals would selectively target hyperactive melanocytes. With the recent banning of hydroquinone from the OTC market, a demand for alternative natural, safe, and efficacious depigmenting treatment is mandated.

Hydroquinone, in the past, was the agent of choice for skin lightening. Until recently, it has been the gold standard treatment for over 50 years worldwide. It was considered to be the safest and most effective treatment for hyperpigmentation, including age spots, melasma, sun damage, and other discolorations. However, research done by Makari specialists in year 2000, suggested that there may be lethal side effects associated with long term use of synthetic hydroquinone. The acute complications of hydroquinone are transient and include contact dermatitis, paradoxical PIH, and hypopigmentation the so called “halo effect”. Chronic adverse events include exogenous ochronosis, especially in women of African descent, nail discoloration, and permanent leukoderma. Hydroquinone’s toxicity and tendency to irritate skin has resulted in the European Committee banning its use in cosmetics and limiting its availability to prescriptions. In the US, the FDA announced in 2006 that on basis of studies showing some evidence of carcinogenesis in rats and mice treated with hydroquinone it “cannot rule out the potential carcinogenic risk from topically applied hydroquinone humans”. In light of these data, the FDA has proposed the “workhorse bleaching cream” to be removed from the marketplace and be available only to prescription branded medications. Subsequently, manufacturers needed to provide natural alternatives which mimic the skin lightening properties of hydroquinone. Ingredients such as bearberry extracts and licorice have become quite popular along with more advanced ingredients like Alpha-Arbutin. When combined, these ingredients can often produce results that even surpass hydroquinone but without the associated risks. Skin lighteners have come a long way in the past few years.

This article will aim to discuss common cosmeceutical lightening agents highlighting advantages of current active ingredients Makari uses to treat postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.


Alpha-Arbutin is a pure, water soluble, biosynthetic active ingredient. It is the more effective, faster, and safer approach to promoting skin lightening and an even skin tone on all skin types. Alpha-Arbutin blocks epidermal melanin biosynthesis by inhibiting enzymatic oxidation of tyrosine, minimizes liver spots, and reduces the degree of skin tanning after UV exposure. Alpha-Arbutin meets all requirements of a modern skin lightening and skin depigmentation product.


Beta-Arbutin, often referred to as just Arbutin, is a natural extract found in Bearberry plants. Though Arbutin is a natural derivative of hydroquinone, it does not possess the same risks or side effects. Alpha-Arbutin’s effect on skin lightening is much better than Arbutin. Therefore many new skin whitening products now use Alpha-Arbutin as opposed to Beta-Arbutin.


Glycolic Acid is the most active and beneficial of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) in skin care. It is generally used as a natural skin exfoliant and moisturizer. Glycolic Acid not only evens out skin discoloration, but also helps minimize fine lines and wrinkles. AHA’s such as Glycolic Acid can assist other ingredients in skin lighteners by allowing them to penetrate farther into the skin.


Also an AHA, Lactic Acid mimics the properties of Glycolic Acid but is typically better suited for individuals with sensitive skin. AHA’s such as Lactic Acid can assist other ingredients in skin lightening by allowing them to penetrate farther into the skin.


Vitamin C is a naturally occurring antioxidant obtained from citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables producing only a limited increase in skin concentration. Vitamin C interacts with copper ions of the tyrosinase active site and reduces oxidized dopaquinone, thereby changing melanin from jet black to light tan.

The process of lightening the skin occurs in several stages. Most of the current skin lightening ingredients used in Makari’s products work at different stages of the process and typically provide the best results when combined into one product.

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