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"Does hydroquinone actually work?" and 5 questions on pigmentation we asked a dermatologist.

Being summer in Australia, it means two very clear things:     

The UV rays are very, very strong. 

And sunburn… we’re avoiding you at all costs.

A (not so) fun fact: it only takes 15 minutes of sun exposure sans SPF to get sunburnt. So, if you’re a skin type like mine, a lack of SPF doesn’t just result in sunburn.

It can also lead to pigmentation, and specifically: hyperpigmentation. 

Having struggled with this my whole life (hello, me slathering coconut oil on my body to lay out in the sun in my teenage years). In my quest to stay sun-kissed back then, I found my pigmentation began to spread. What began as darker marks, turned into a full-blown melasma moustache in just a few months. 

I am constantly on the lookout for treatments and ingredients to help keep my melasma at bay. I’ve only just gotten my hands on the John Plunkett's Superfade Face Treatment Cream because of the hype around its active ingredient, hydroquinone.

Hydroquinone has risen in popularity and is currently touted as the ‘gold standard’ ingredient for fading hyperpigmentation.  

But before I’m ready to trade in my trusty ol’ vitamin C, I needed the 411 on what hydroquinone actually is, and how it can treat my concerns. So, I asked Melbourne based dermatologist, Dr Michelle Rodrigues on all the things we need to know about pigmentation. 

Before we talk treatments, we need to understand: what are the different types of pigmentation?

“Pigmentation comes in many shapes and forms. It’s a term that describes how the skin is lighter than its usual colour (called hypopigmentation) or darker (called hyperpigmentation).” 

Dr Rodrigues told us that most of the time when people say “pigmentation”, they actually are meaning “hyperpigmentation.” Many forms of hyperpigmentation like melasma and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation are more common in those with skin of colour, due to their active melanocytes (a fancy word meaning pigment-producing cells) that are more susceptible to things like visible light, heat and energy from lasers. 

“On the other hand, those with light skin types are most susceptible to freckles and sun induced age spots. So, most skin types will have some tendency to some type of hyperpigmentation if exposed to enough sun or ultra-violet light over time.”

Are all types of hyperpigmentation curable?

Dr Rodrigues confirmed this depends on a few factors. 

“The diagnosis is critical here, because something like post inflammatory hyperpigmentation after acne, can be successfully treated and cured by adequately treating the acne and then addressing the secondary hyperpigmentation that is left behind.” 

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“In a similar vein, freckles and flat brown age spots may also be completely removed but melasma on the other hand is a chronic and relapsing condition that cannot be cured.”

What types of ingredients would you recommend in treating melasma?

Personally, I suffer from melasma, and I call it my melasma moustache as I get darker around my mouth and chin area. Just like Dr Rodrigues said, I’ve never been able to ‘cure’ it, but have found with a strict skincare regime it’s treatable. 

Dr Rodrigues confirmed the current “gold standard” treatment for conditions like melasma and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation is hydroquinone. 

“Kojic acid and azelaic acid have very robust scientific data demonstrating their benefits for many types of hyperpigmentation along with arbutinin and niacinamide being great for melasma prone skin.” 

Listen to You Beauty (the daily podcast for your face) talking hydroquinone and John Plunkett's Superfade. Post continues below. 


What do we need to know about hydroquinone, and how it works to fade hyperpigmentation?

“Hydroquinone is an ingredient that works by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase which converts DOPA (dihydroxyphenylalanine) to melanin (pigment). It also affects melanosomes which are cells responsible for the production, storage, and transport of pigment (melanin).”

Some consider the use of hydroquinone to have a negative impact on coloured skin types. What’s the latest on this?

“It has received bad press in some countries, and also claims that is potentially can be cancer causing. However, these are unauthenticated claims. There are currently no published studies in medical literature to date showing cancer in those that have used topical hydroquinone creams.”  

“Some people do ask me about a rare condition called ochronosis where the skin turns irreversibly black. This is very rare, and usually seen when hydroquinone is combined with ingredients like resorcinol and when it is used for prolonged periods of time without medical supervision.”

Well, the more you know.

Personally, I am DEFINITELY keen to give hydroquinone a go, and need it in my routine ASAP. 

Image: Supplied. 

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I’d been eyeing off John Plunkett’s Superfade Face Treatment Cream and Superfade Treatment Cream (for hands and body), and they’re now new members of my skincare collection. 

John Plunkett's Superfade Treatment Creams are the leading pharmacy strength pigment fading solutions, available over the counter without a script.

The products are formulated with 2% hydroquinone and 1.5% salicylic acid – which helps fade pigmentation including freckles, age spots, melasma and dark marks. 

In terms of application, it’s thankfully straight forward – you apply it sparingly to only the areas you’re trying to treat (this is not a cream you apply to the whole face as it’s job is to break down excess melanin). This is just carried out once a day, at night to begin with. 

It’s recommended to avoid days when you’re using vitamin A products or other exfoliants (because the combination may be too strong for the skin) and ensure that you apply (and reapply) SPF the following morning. 

As with any new skincare product it’s always recommended to patch test first to ensure the skin reacts well to the product (I always go for the forearm or the nape of my neck, and wait 48 hours). 

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As for when you’ll start noticing a difference in your skin – hyperpigmentation will take some time to fade. John Plunkett's Superfade products deliver effective results noticeable at the 6 week mark. At first it may seem like a long time to wait, but as someone who has hyperpigmentation, I’ll gladly commit to 1.5 months to fade my melasma moustache (Rome wasn’t built in a day etc etc!). 

As for other tips on what you can try to keep your hyperpigmentation in check? Dr Rodrigues told Mamamia her favourite four:

  1. Protect yourself from the sun! SPF, sitting in the shade, covering up with clothing… the works.

  2. Ditch the LED masks and light treatments as they can make hyperpigmentation worse.

  3. Stay away from micro needling. 

  4. Make sure any laser therapy for melasma is performed at a dermatology center with an understanding of hyperpigmentation. 

As Dr Rodrigues says, “pigmentation is not a diagnosis.” If you’d like to work on improving the appearance of your pigmentation, the takeaway is to have a professional consult where an analysis of your own skin type can be carried out, and then find a treatment plan that works for you.

John Plunkett’s Superfade is proudly Australian owned and made, and has been offering long-lasting and effective solutions for mild, moderate and hyperpigmentation for 35 years. Check out the full range.

Feature Image: Supplied/Instagram @alishabhojwani_

JOHN PLUNKETT’S SUPERFADE – The Pigmentation Experts
John Plunkett’s Superfade, the pigmentation experts, provide a range of topical medicated and non-medicated skin pigmentation treatment products that assist in fading unwanted pigmentation such as dark spots, melasma, freckles, brown marks and age spots. The Superfade range of products contain multi-active ingredients at therapeutic levels and work synergistically to provide the best possible results. Superfade Face Treatment Cream and Superfade Treatment Cream for Hands & Body contain 2% Hydroquinone, the gold standard in hyper-pigmentation treatment. John Plunkett’s Superfade is proudly Australian owned and made and has been offering long-lasting and effective solutions for mild, moderate and hyperpigmentation for 35 years.