Skin lightening pads are most frequently used to treat hyperpigmentation of the face, especially melasma. Melasma is a common skin condition among women that results in brown patches of skin on the face. Age spots (also known as sun spots) can also be treated with skin lightening products. Skin lightening pads made by a compounding pharmacy can contain a mixture of ingredients for lightening hyperpigmentation and improving skin tone. These ingredients can be made in concentrations and combinations that are not available in any commercial product.
Ingredients in Skin Lightening Pads
Skin lightening is also sometimes referred to as bleaching or depigmentation. The most common ingredient that is prescribed is hydroquinone. This product’s ability to lighten the skin is unmatched by most other active ingredients. The exception may be tranexamic acid cream, which is recently being prescribed more by dermatologists. Most prescriptions that our pharmacy sees for skin lightening pads include hydroquinone with kojic acid. Kojic acid is another effective lightening agent that works best when used in combination with other ingredients.
Melasma: Melasma is an acquired condition triggered by sun exposure. It is most often found in women and may be related to genetics and hormonal changes. When triggered by UV-radiation, melasma results in dark, symmetrical patches of skin on the face.
Age Spots / Sun Spots / Solar Lentigines: While sometimes referred to as “age spots” these marks on the skin are actually the result of sun damage. Technically these are also a type of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Photodamage from exposure to UV rays increase melanin production.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: Melanin production can increase after the skin is inflamed due to a skin condition or procedure. This commonly occurs with acne, injuries to the skin like burns, contact dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis – although it can be associated with numerous other skin conditions. When patients are suffering from acne scars it is often a combination of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring.
All of these situations involve areas of skin that have too much pigment. When the entire face becomes tan from sun exposure, the result is an even skin tone. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is almost always uneven. Melasma is often symmetrical but there is a clear demarcation between the affected skin and the rest of the face. The use of skin lightening pads can help even out these discolorations to help produce a more even skin tone.
How Do Skin Lightening Pads Work?
Skin lightening pads containing hydroquinone work by inhibiting melanin synthesis through the inhibition of tyrosinase. This inhibition is reversible, however. Sun exposure can easily undo the beneficial effects of this medication. Through the inhibition of melanin synthesis, the skin gradually can return to a more even skin tone as new skin cells are produced. The beneficial effects of skin lightening pads with hydroquinone and kojic acid can usually start to be seen after one month of consistent treatment. Consistency is crucial to the success of skin lightening treatments.
Skin Lightening Pad Formulations
The most common formulation for skin lightening pads contains hydroquinone and kojic acid. The hydroquinone concentration ranges from 4%-8% and the kojic acid is included in a 4% concentration. The cotton facial pads are saturated in the medicated solution. Many patients find that using a medicated facial pad is an easy addition to their skincare routine. Unlike creams and ointments that may take time to absorb into the skin, the medicated solution dries much more quickly.
Some patients may already be used to using facial cleansing pads they buy over-the-counter that contain other effective ingredients like salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an anti-keratolytic and cleansing agent that helps clear skin and reduce acne. The facial pads for skin lightening may help cleanse the skin somewhat, but their main purpose is to lighten patches of hyperpigmented skin.
Side Effects and Precautions
When using a hydroquinone-containing product, it is essential to use proper skin protection. Not only does the product make the skin more sensitive to sun exposure, but UV radiation can potentially trigger another flare-up of melasma or cause further hyperpigmentation. Especially when using high-strength prescription lightening agents, it is important to wear broad-spectrum sunscreen, cover the skin as much as possible, and avoid sun exposure when the sun is at its peak in the afternoon. Skin lightening pads can also sometimes result in irritation, especially for patients with sensitive skin. Certain products like benzoyl peroxide should not be used in conjunction with this product. Patients should report any adverse effects to their doctor immediately.
How is it Prescribed?
Most doctors will recommend that a treatment course with hydroquinone last 3-6 months. After a treatment course, use of skin lightening pads should be discontinued for several months before another treatment is attempted. This will help minimize adverse effects and allow the skin to heal and adjust. Other doctors may prescribe the pads to be used only on the weekends or only a few times a week. The actual prescription given will depend on many factors unique to the individual patient.