If you’re considering using monobenzone to achieve a lighter complexion — stop.
If you have started using monobenzone and do not have vitiligo — stop immediately.
Of all the chemicals that bleach the skin, monobenzone may be the worst thing anyone without vitiligo can use.
If you have dark marks from acne, scars or melasma, monobenzone is not the solution.
Monobenzone should only ever be used by people with vitiligo, whose immune system is attacking their melanocytes. Before I go on, it’s important for you to first understand what vitiligo is so you will know why anyone without this skin condition should never use monobenzone.
Vitiligo is a relatively common skin disease affecting about one out of every hundred people. With vitiligo, the body works to kill melanocytes (cells that give us our color), causing the skin to turn white in patches.
This bleaching effect can also sometimes affect hair as well as the mucous membranes inside the nose and mouth.
No one knows what causes vitiligo. Only theories exist.
Vitiligo may be due to:
- Genetic causes
- Environmental causes
- Autoimmune abnormality
The white patches can spread — rapidly or slowly — to cover the entire body surface (universal vitiligo), but the most common form appears in a symmetrical form (generalized vitiligo). Sometimes, only half of the body is affected (segmental vitiligo).
Vitiligo affects both men and women regardless of skin color or ethnicity. It can occur at any age, but most develop it before they turn twenty.
It is not infectious. You cannot develop vitiligo from someone with vitiligo.
A promising treatment for vitiligo
A drug used to treat arthritis called tofacitinib was shown to be effective in restoring pigmentation in a woman with progressive vitiligo.
After 2 months, the 53-year old woman had partial repigmentation on her arms, face and hands. After 5 months, the white patches on her face and hands were nearly all gone (news link).
For more information on vitiligo and vitiligo support: The Vitiligo Society.
Monobenzone is a depigmenting treatment for cases of extensive vitiligo, where the patches of white skin are too large to be treated for repigmentation.
A few things you should know about monobenzone:
- Scientists still do not fully understand how monobenzone works.
- Its effects are unpredictable and may not lead to complete depigmentation.
- Monobenzone is usually also the last resort for someone with vitiligo.
Monobenzone creams appear to cause depigmentation by killing the skin’s melanocytes.
However, later studies have shown that while it probably kills melanocytes in the epidermis, it has no effect on the follicular reservoir.
Therefore, it is not unusual for spots of original color to return after a few years of good results. Sun exposure may possibly speed up the return of pigmentation.
In people with vitiligo, monobenzone use may lead to pigment-free skin within 1 to 2 years.
However, monobenzone has unpredictable effects, and even vitiligo patients being treated with monobenzone by their doctors have difficulty maintaining their even and white color.
Spots of pigmentation may reappear after several years because of the follicular reservoirs that can produce melanin.
Consider Michael Jackson — the world’s most famous person with vitiligo. Even after years of intense monobenzone treatment with the best doctors, Michael Jackson still had to live under a veil of make-up and gloves.
So even for vitiligo patients being treated with monobenzone by their doctors, make-up and other ways of camouflaging skin often become a way of life, as patches of color may remain resistant to depigmentation or return.
Another downside — monobenzone poses risk to others
The process of completely depigmenting the skin with monobenzone is a long one (1-2 years).
Unlike other skin treatments, using monobenzone could also put family members and close ones at risk of depigmenting as well due to accidental skin contact.
Monobenzone needs to be handled carefully, and vitiligo patients are taught to take extra precautions so that the cream does not inadvertently transfer itself via skin contact with members of their household.
Vitiligo patients who are also parents undergoing monobenzone depigmenting treatment often only apply the cream when their children are at school to minimize this risk of transfer.
Monobenzone is not like hydroquinone at all
Some people online might think monobenzone is simply one step up from hydroquinone in strength, and that it can boost their skin lightening progress.
This is simply wrong.
Monobenzone cannot be compared to hydroquinone or any other skin lightening ingredient.
This is because monobenzone is not a skin lightener. It is unlike any other skin lighteners out there. Because of what it can do, monobenzone is in a class of its own.
I’m not sure how the confusion between monobenzone and hydroquinone started, but perhaps it’s because monobenzone is also referred to as monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone.
Yes, it is true that monobenzone and hydroquinone are both phenols and have similar chemical structures (see the table below), but the effects they have on skin are as different as night and day.
If you do not have the time to read this entire page, the following table gives a summary of the differences between the effects of monobenzone and hydroquinone on the skin of people without vitiligo. If you do have time, read on — it just might save your skin!
Effects of monobenzone and hydroquinone on non-vitiligo users
|First few months
|Initial white patches all over the body, including
areas not treated with monobenzone.
|Skin color lightens a few shades where it is applied.
|Large portion of body has turned white.
|Hydroquinone use should be limited to fewer than
six months. Using it for longer can cause the opposite
desired effect — skin darkening and damage.
|If usage stops…
|When you stop using monobenzone, melanocytes
will become active. Old skin color will start to
reappear causing distress and patchy, uneven skin.
|If the skin is healthy, the lighter shade can be
maintained through regular sunscreen use. Otherwise, any lightening achieved may be easily reversed.
|If usage continues beyond one year…
Raw areas of pink skin may emerge, mixed with
Monobenzone becomes ineffective on these spots as the returned pigment has become resistant to the chemical.
The overall effect can be devastating mentally, emotionally and psychologically.
|The skin has a high risk of developing abnormal pigmentation like exogenous ochronosis.
What monobenzone does to the skin of a person without vitiligo
Initially, white patches, white spots and streaks all over the body (regardless of where the cream was applied)
Unlike skin lightening creams that only lighten the areas where they are applied, monobenzone applied anywhere on the body will lead to white patches on different areas.
For example, even if you only applied monobenzone on your face, you could develop permanent white patches and white streaks on your arms, legs and torso.
After 1 year — white skin, with ruddy or pinkish tones
Because monobenzone creams kill the skin’s melanocytes, you can expect completely white and pinkish skin following depigmentation.
This usually occurs after a year of monobenzone use. The skin color will be similar to that of a person with albinism.
Physical activity and exercise will lead to ruddy-looking skin and flushing as blood beneath the skin’s surface will show up clearly without any pigment to tint its appearance.
Within 1-2 years — the skin may start to repigment itself and look patchy
While this repigmentation may happen to vitiligo patients as well, it occurs sooner and more aggressively in people without vitiligo.
This is because vitiligo patients’ immune systems are constantly attacking their own pigment cells. There is no such action in people without vitiligo.
In people with healthy immune systems, melanocytes can become active again faster. Spots and patches of pigmentation will start to appear over previously white skin, leading to a patchy appearance.
Unlike the initial stage of monobenzone use, applying monobenzone to bleach these re-pigmented spots may have no effect.
This is because the newly re-emerged melanocytes would have become resistant to monobenzone, so that even higher concentrations like 40% monobenzone may do little.
In other words, at this late stage, monobenzone will stop working on the skin.
If the skin does not repigment, expect a lifetime of zero sun protection
Because melanin offers sun protection, completely depigmented skin with no melanin offers zero sun protection.
Thus, vitiligo patients who have successfully depigmented need to wear hats, long sleeves and long pants outdoors all the time to protect themselves from sun damage.
Even on cloudy days, sunscreens with broad coverage are a must.
Monobenzone use on someone without vitiligo may end up creating a new “vitiligo” patient
Often, someone without vitiligo who uses monobenzone in sufficiently high percentages (e.g. 20% monobenzone) and over a long period of time will have to be treated by a doctor as a new “vitiligo” patient as there exists no way yet to reverse the damage caused by monobezone.
Monobenzone goes by many names
Monobenzone goes by several other chemical names.
- Benzyl hydroquinone
- Hydroquinone benzyl ether/Hydroquinone monobenzyl ether
- Monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone/Monobenzyl hydroquinone
- Benzyl p-hydroxyphenyl ether
- p-Hydroxyphenyl benzyl ether
Monobenzone is distributed and sold under these brand names (this is not an inclusive list, meaning there are other brands not listed here).
- AgeRite Alba