Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Sritama Dutta (Medical Science)  on 10th Dec 2020

Mequinol: What You Should Know About This Skin Lightening Ingredient

Skin Lightening Ingredient

Skin Hyperpigmentation is a common problem that almost everyone has suffered from in their life. And the skincare industry has developed a multitude of products to take care of the condition. With the wide range of products with various ingredients that can alleviate hyperpigmentation, it becomes difficult and confusing to choose what is best for your skin. If you're one such individual concerned about your skin pigmentation, you have come to the right place.

Though various ingredients can help you improve hyperpigmentation, there is one ingredient that has become quite popular in recent years as a spot treatment for hyperpigmentation. In this article, we shall discuss Mequinol, a potent ingredient that can help you lighten pigmented patches on the skin.  

What is Hyperpigmentation? 

Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition where patches on the skin get darkened because of excessive melanin production in the skin

It is one of the most common skin conditions that many people have to deal with. However, there are a lot of options, both expensive and inexpensive, for treating skin hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation can affect any part of your body. It can occur in small patches, spread in large areas, or even affect the entire body in severe cases. It can happen due to intake of certain medications, excessive exposure to sunlight, or even some underlying diseases such as Addison's Disease. It can also occur due to hormonal changes or after healing of any injuries, as in Post-inflammatory inflammation.  

What are the different types of hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation can be of different types, which can develop due to various reasons. Let's see what the different types of hyperpigmentation are.  

1. Melasma:

This is one of the most common types of hyperpigmentation that is believed to be caused by hormonal alterations. This skin condition is common during pregnancy when women's bodies go through hormonal changes.

2. Sunspot:

Sunspots occur when the skin is exposed to sunlight for an extended period. These are also known as solar lentigines or liver spots, and they can develop any part of your body. Mostly the parts that are exposed to the scorching sun, like on your feet and hands.  

3. Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation:

Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or PIH are discolored patches that appear on the skin after your skin has suffered any injury or has been inflamed. PIH can also occur after the healing of inflammatory acne.

The sunspots and melasma are localized patches of pigmentation on the skin. These macular lesions have an increased number of active melanocytes, which leads to a surge in melanin synthesis.  

Treatment for Skin Hyperpigmentation: 

Whether caused by certain medications, metabolic causes, or malignancy, there are several skin depigmentation ingredients that you can use to treat hyperpigmentation.

One of the significant ingredients for such skin conditions is hydroquinone. It's been proved to be effective in diminishing melanin synthesis without the risk of any long-term side effects. Other options are azelaic acid, topical corticosteroids, kojic acid, or other facial acids.

However, some cases have been reported where individuals have experienced some adverse effects. It can cause redness or dryness of the skin. Some cases have also been reported where using hydroquinone developed ochronosis, which are papules with bluish-black pigmentations.

Many individuals are concerned about the spots and patches on their skin. Spots on the skin can even lower one's self-esteem. To treat these, one of the most effective skin depigmenting agents is mequinol that is often used as an alternative to hydroquinone. Let's find out what mequinol is and how effective it can be for hyperpigmentation.  

What is Mequinol? How is it effective for Hyperpigmentation? 

Mequinol, chemically termed as MeHQ or 4-methoxy phenol, is a widely used phenol in the dermatological industry. It is an active component that is used to treat skin hyperpigmentation. It is a substrate of the enzyme tyrosinase, which acts as a competitive inhibitor that halts melanin production.

Mequinol is often mixed with tretinoin and used as a topical drug. It's a retinoid. It had been employed to treat hyperpigmentation such as sunspots, melasma, and age spots.

Mequinol is also used in lower dosages along with Q-switched lasers for treating patients with disseminated idiopathic vitiligo.  

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How does Mequinol Work? 

Though the mechanism of action of mequinol is not fully interpreted, it is believed that, when applied topically, it affects the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin, or the pigment-producing chemical in our skin. It is often used as a combination with tretinoin for dermatological treatments.

Tretinoin is a naturally occurring form of Vitamin A. When applied topically, tretinoin helps in the renewal of the skin cells. Together, mequinol and tretinoin have been clinically tested to reduce melanin synthesis to treat age spots or sunspots.

Mequinol is, therefore, considered to be a potent melanotoxic component. It targets the melanocytes and gets oxidized to form toxic substances like quinones. However, our skin cells are capable of protecting themselves against the assault of such cytotoxic chemicals. The intracellular glutathione helps detoxify and neutralize the effects of the toxins formed and let the drugs lighten the skin tone.  

What does science say? 

Quite a few clinical tests have been done to assess the effectiveness of mequinol and its combination against other known depigmenting ingredients. They have helped us to understand more about the ingredients. Let's find out what Science says about it. 

Study 1:

A study was conducted in 2004, where 216 subjects participated in the trial on a new drug, a combination of 2% mequinol and 0.01% tretinoin. They were placed in randomized, parallel groups, and the drug was applied to their pigmented patches on their skin for the next 16 weeks.

The subjects were then followed up for another 24 weeks. It was found that a significant fraction of the subjects achieved clinical success while using the formulated combination of 2% mequinol and 0.01% tretinoin. Compared with the control group who had been using 3% Hydroquinone in lesional pigmentation, the combination of mequinol was found to be more effective.  

Study 2: 

Another clinical study done was done on subjects from the Caucasian population with darker skin types. This open-label study was also done to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a topical combination of drugs 4-hydroxyanisole (mequinol) 2% and 0.01% Tretinoin in treating solar lentigines. The progress was evaluated at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 24 weeks and the subjects were followed up for another four weeks after the treatment ended.

After the study, it was found that the drug combination was well tolerable and safe to use on skin. Over 80% of the 259 subjects responded positively to the drug combination without any adverse effect. The study concluded that this mequinol formulation is effective in the treatment of sunspots or solar lentigines. 

Does Mequinol have any potential side effects? 

Mequinol and its combinations are generally well tolerated by all individuals. However, there have been some cases of adverse effects reported too. These are the signs and symptoms of mequinol toxicity that you can expect:  

  • Redness or burning of the skin 
  • Peeling of the skin 
  • Discomfort 
  • Patches of discoloration on the skin 
  • Hypopigmentation 
  • Itchiness or skin irritation 
  • Stinging or tingling of the skin 
  • Dryness  
  • Swelling

How should Mequinol be used? 

According to dermatologists, mequinol products should be applied only to the affected area of the skin. The drug is to be taken on an applicator tip and applied on the hyperpigmented patches and spots.

It is recommended to use mequinol at least twice daily, at least with an interval of eight hours or as advised by your doctor. Also, it is recommended that the patient must not bathe or shower after applying the drug topically.  

Does Mequinol interact with other drugs? 

Though mequinol is usually safe, it might react with some drugs. Thus, if you have any existing disease or take any therapeutic medicines, it is recommended to consult with your physician. These are the drugs that might react with mequinol: 

  • Sulfa Drugs 
  • Diuretics 
  • Antibiotics 
  • Phenothiazines 

Is Mequinol safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding? 

Hyperpigmentation may occur during pregnant or lactating mothers due to hormonal changes; mequinol is not recommended to be used during pregnancy. However, it is unknown whether mequinol can pass into breast milk or not. Thus, breastfeeding mothers must consult with their doctors before starting to use mequinol products.  

Final Note: 

Skin hyperpigmentation can be a real nuisance, and you surely wouldn't want a constant worry each day you wake up. To help you in that undesirable situation, we have come up with this article to throw some light on an efficient skin depigmenting ingredient: mequinol.

Though it has been found out that mequinol is quite effective in treating hyperpigmentations such as solar lentigines and melasma, it is also recommended to consult your dermatologists before you start using mequinol products.