Chemical and instrumental approaches to treat hyperpigmentation

Pigment Cell Res. 2003 Apr;16(2):101-10. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0749.2003.00029.x.


Many modalities of treatment for acquired skin hyperpigmentation are available including chemical agents or physical therapies, but none are completely satisfactory. Depigmenting compounds should act selectively on hyperactivated melanocytes, without short- or long-term side-effects, and induce a permanent removal of undesired pigment. Since 1961 hydroquinone, a tyrosinase inhibitor, has been introduced and its therapeutic efficacy demonstrated, and other whitening agents specifically acting on tyrosinase by different mechanisms have been proposed. Compounds with depigmenting activity are now numerous and the classification of molecules, based on their mechanism of action, has become difficult. Systematic studies to assess both the efficacy and the safety of such molecules are necessary. Moreover, the evidence that bleaching compounds are fairly ineffective on dermal accumulation of melanin has prompted investigations on the effectiveness of physical therapies, such as lasers. This review which describes the different approaches to obtain depigmentation, suggests a classification of whitening molecules on the basis of the mechanism by which they interfere with melanogenesis, and confirms the necessity to apply standardized protocols to evaluate depigmenting treatments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hydroquinones / pharmacology
  • Hydroquinones / therapeutic use
  • Hyperpigmentation / drug therapy*
  • Hyperpigmentation / metabolism
  • Hyperpigmentation / physiopathology
  • Laser Therapy
  • Melanins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Melanins / metabolism
  • Melanocytes / drug effects*
  • Melanocytes / metabolism
  • Melanocytes / pathology
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / physiopathology


  • Hydroquinones
  • Melanins
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase
  • hydroquinone