Monobenzone: Skin Lightening Ingredients to Avoid

The beauty industry is one of the most researched and lucrative sectors the world over. The driving force behind this is the quest for flawless and lighter skin. Achieving the goal has, however, seen the use of potentially dangerous skin lightening substances. Among these are mercury, steroids and in no small extent, hydroquinone. What about monobenzone?

A new entrant into the market is monobenzone. It is a vitiligo treatment that works by depigmenting the darker areas of the skin. The compound came into the limelight after the King of Pop Michael Jackson used it to treat his skin. Behind the scenes, though, people use monobenzone to lighten skin for purely aesthetic purposes.  

Being one of the most potent depigmenting agents, its abuse can lead to adverse side effects. We have done our research on monobenzone, one of the skin lightening ingredients to avoid, and prepared everything you need to know.[1]

What is Monobenzone?

Monobenzone is an alcohol-soluble white, crystalline powder used to treat uneven skin colour. It is an organic chemical also known as 4-(Benzyloxy) phenol (MBEH), a monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone. In vitiligo medication, the chemical goes by the product name Benoquin. [2]

Use of the chemical in skin lightening goes back to the 1930s. Back then, its purpose was primarily to slow down the deterioration of rubber. Factory workers started reporting the loss of skin colour after wearing rubber gloves treated with monobenzone.

The reports sparked the use of the agent to achieve depigmentation. With time though, users started noticing that the effect was complete and irreversible. Even worse, the treatment also left the skin reddened and dermatitis-ridden.

How Does Monobenzone Lighten Skin?

The full mechanism of the depigmenting effect of monobenzone is still under investigation. The consensus is that it speeds up the excretion of melanin from the cells that produce it- melanocytes.[3

The process is erratic and can take up to four months before it occurs. While this is happening, your skin undergoes rejuvenation. Through exfoliation, the existing skin colour starts to fade. As a result, the overall rate of hypopigmentation increases. Sunlight exposure during use, however, slows the process.

Notably, hyperpigmented skin loses colour faster than normal skin after topical use of monobenzone. Furthermore, studies have shown that the chemical kills melanocytes, making it much harder to reverse its effects.

Monobenzone: Skin Lightening Ingredients to Avoid

Dr Apratim Goel

Medical Director, 

Cutis Skin Solution,

Mumbai, India

If a person with normal skin uses MBH topically, it causes Chemical Vitiligo which can take up to a year to be treated. In some cases the de-pigmentation is permanent.[4]

Uses of Monobenzone

Monobenzone is used to treat uneven skin tone that occurs due to the loss of skin colour. In particular, the ingredient is a topical vitiligo treatment. The condition manifests as white or discoloured patches that can appear on any part of the body. [5]

While the exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, it is suspected to be an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks and kills melanocytes. When the pigment-producing cells die, the skin becomes hypopigmented. Vitiligo has a familial component. Stress or exposure to toxic chemicals are possible triggers of the condition. 

To even your skin tone, monobenzone removes the colour from the skin surrounding the white patches. The bleaching effect is strong enough to remove melanin from areas of the skin far from the point of application.   

When Should Monobenzone Not Be Used?

Since the substance is an active bleaching agent, you should only use it for conditions where dark, brown, hyperpigmented or blemished skin is no longer desirable and only if you cannot use a milder ingredient.

As such, monobenzone should only be used to treat vitiligo. For other skin conditions, only with the express orders from a doctor should you use the drug.

Typically, monobenzone is not suitable to treat skin conditions such as sunspots, freckles, birthmarks and age spots. Similarly, do not use the treatment for the discolouration caused by hormones, skin trauma, and medicine use.

How to Use Monobenzone

Monobenzone is a topical treatment. You should use it for 2-3 times a day, or as prescribed. Apply a thin layer of the cream on the affected skin, rub gently and let it absorb. Complete depigmentation may take up to 4 months to achieve, but results should start showing after a month of continuous use.[5]

To maintain the desired results, you should lower the dosage to a few times a week. In most cases, people who use the cream for vitiligo twice a week to keep the dark skin in check. 

Monobenzone makes your skin sensitive to sunlight. To reduce the sensitivity and avoid sunburns, always use an SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen after application. It would help if you also kept off tanning booths and sunbathing. For further protection, always wear protective clothing, especially if you are to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Monobenzone Side Effects

Common side effects of the drug include burning, redness, cracking, irritation, and peeling. These are however mild reactions which clear in a few days during initial use. However, if the effects persist, you should discontinue use and consult your doctor.[6]

In severe cases, you may experience swelling of the throat, face and tongue. Severe dizziness and shortness of breath are possible. Such side effects, however, come from only highly-concentrated (above 20%) monobenzone creams.

Contraindications

Monobenzone should not be used by pregnant or lactating mothers, except if recommended by your doctor. You should also not use the cream if you are allergic to hydroquinone. When using it purely for cosmetic skin lightening, remember there is the danger of re-pigmentation to contend with.[​7]   

Conclusion

Monobenzone is a potent skin bleaching agent. It is a monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone. The compound depigments the dark patches in people suffering from vitiligo. Its use should, however, be limited to conditions which warrant the complete loss of skin colour since its results are permanent. 

That said, this is not your regular OTC skin lightening cream. In fact, some countries only sell it with a prescription. Additionally, most nations have banned the use of such creams (containing hydroquinone) for cosmetic purposes. The banning has, however, not stopped the black market sale, thanks to the rising demand. To protect yourself, scrutinize the ingredients in your skin lightening products before buying.

For alternative skin lightening options, have a look at our detailed guide to the best skin lightening products.

About:

sonia knight

Sonia Knight is the founder of be:skinformed.

Apart from having her own experience with hyperpigmentation, Sonia has gained vast knowledge in the dermatology field. For more info on this, check out our about us page.

Resources

1 Successful Treatment of Extensive Vitiligo with Monobenzone, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology

2 Monobenzone, Drug Bank

Vitiligo (Skin Fading), Medicine Net

5  What Is Vitiligo?, Healthline 

Medical Treatments, American Vitiligo Research Foundation

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