Skincare products are made with several ingredients where each comes with specific purposes. Some contain agents that target pigmentation only. Two of them are Diacetyl Boldine (DAB) and Hydroquinone (HQ). Both are depigmenting compounds that tend to prevent production or transfer of melanin so that it helps even out skin tone or lighten it. Although their purpose is similar, there are some differences between Diacetyl Boldine and Hydroquinone.
One thing that makes Diacetyl Boldine different from Hydroquinone is that it works more effectively, safely and quickly than HQ. Then again, Hydroquinone also has some benefits that the other one lacks.
In case you wish to know about the characteristics, performance, uses, benefits and drawbacks of both Diacetyl Boldine and Hydroquinone, give this article a read.
What is Diacetyl Boldine Used For?
Diacetyl Boldine, a natural antioxidant and anti-melanogenic active, is commonly found in many skin-lightening and antiaging products that are used for reducing pigmentation and signs of aging.
As per a study conducted in 2014 by the researcher Morganti, its primary function is to obstruct the synthesis and transfer of melanosomes to keratinocytes. This means, firstly, Diacetyl Boldine tries to stop the melanin by slowing down its production and even if it’s produced, the ingredient prevents melanin from being transferred to skin cells where it can show discoloration.
It works in three ways. First, Diacetyl Boldine helps inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme required to make melanin by regulating flow of calcium. Such an action reduces hyperpigmentation and evens out skin tone. Second, it neutralizes free radicals by slowing down uncontrolled growth, helping good cells survive longer and optimizing metabolism. Third, it blocks stress receptors so that your complexion stays fresh. All these contribute to prevention of aging as it keeps the skin tightened and firm.
However, someone may experience issues like skin irritation, itching and/or redness because of sensitivities or allergies. They can also develop an allergic reaction to the ingredient and suffer from swelling and hives.
No matter the side effects, it’s suggested that you discontinue using it and see a doctor immediately.
- Lightens and evens out the skin
- Rejuvenates and tightens the skin
- Combats cell-damaging molecules
- Helps prevent signs of aging
- Skin irritation, itching and redness
- Swelling and hives
What is Hydroquinone Used For?
Hydroquinone is an aromatic compound used in different skin-lightening and spot-removing products for treating melasma, acne scars, freckles and lentigines that are primarily caused by injury, hormone medicine, birth-control pills and pregnancy.
The agent also used to be present in
- Hair dyes as coupler for helping other ingredients color hair
- Nail care products for making the liquid last longer before hardening so that technicians get more time to shape the nails.
However, the use of hydroquinone was banned due to safety concerns.
Now, the compound is mainly used in skincare products. Because of its efficacy, it’s been regarded as a versatile and widely used depigmentation agent.
A study in 2023 by Shayne mentions that the compound functions as an antioxidant, reducing agent or polymerization inhibitor that prevents tyrosinase and decreases the activity of melanocytes by using molecules like oxygen radicals, semi-quinones and quinones. Consequently, these reactive substances work to prevent melanin production.
Although the compound helps with skin-lightening, it may come with side effects like skin irritation, redness, dryness, flaking and peeling. Many individuals have also suffered from ochronosis i.e. bluish-black discoloration of certain tissues. It’s revealed that 6-8% or higher concentration can lead to such skin conditions.
- Restores the skin to baseline color
- Lightens the skin
- Fades acne scars and age spots
- Diminishes freckles
- Allergic reactions like skin irritation, redness, dryness, flaking and peeling.
- May cause Ochronosis.
Hydroquinone VS Diacetyl Boldine [Head-to-Head Differences Between Them]
|Peumus boldus tree
|Naturally found in plants, fungi and beetle; artificially made in lab
|Treats hyperpigmentation, melasma and signs of aging
|Treats hyperpigmentation, melasma, acne scars, freckles and lentigines
|Around 2 months
|From 2 to 6 months
|Moisturizer, lotion, skin fading-lightening cream, serum, sunscreen, anti-aging treatment, cleanser, toner, acne treatment and concealer
|Cream, lotion, gel and emulsion
|ClearChoice Lumilacti.C, Ana María Crema Facial Aclarante and Hava Zingboim Age Protection Cream
|Zo Skin Health Pigment Control, Ambi Fade Cream and Esoterica Facial.
|Skin irritation, itching, redness, swelling and hives
|Skin irritation, redness, dryness, flaking, peeling and Ochronosis
While Diacetyl originates from a plant, Hydroquinone is created by chemists in the laboratory even though it exists in nature.
Diacetyl Boldine is a natural compound extracted from the bark of a tree namely, Peumus boldus. The medicinal plant is native to Chile and Peru.
Hydroquinone is naturally found in some plants like Ericales or Lamiales and fungi like Agaricus hondenis mushrooms. It’s also produced in the body of bombardier beetle that uses it as defense secretion. However, extracting it from the natural sources isn’t always possible since it’s low in concentration and it’s difficult to separate the agent from complex mix of other compounds present in the sources. Hence, hydroquinone is made in the lab for use.
Different studies found Diacetyl Boldine effective in treating hyperpigmentation and melasma. One of them reveals that the use of 4% diacetyl boldine solution helped decrease melanin in 51% of the volunteers and tyrosinase activity in 35%. Around 20 Asiatic volunteers went through vivo colorimetric tests which proved that the skin treated with such an ingredient contained lower melanin index and higher Individual Typological Angle value i.e. clarity. Users also commented that Diacetyl Boldine helped reduce pigmentation and make the skin appear more radiant and even. You can daily use DAB-based products twice and it may take around 56 days to see visible results.
As for hydroquinone, researchers found it more efficient in reducing hyperpigmentation, melasma and age/acne spots and subtly working in treating freckles. A survey was conducted regarding its use and it reveals that 85% of the participants were satisfied with the efficacy of the product containing hydroquinone. Not just that, many vitro and vivo tests showed that this ingredient helped inhibit tyrosinase function and melanin formation completely. It can be used twice a day with a sunscreen and may take from 2 to 6 months to notice the difference.
Diacetyl Boldine can be found in the form of moisturizer, lotion, skin fading-lightening cream, serum, sunscreen, anti-aging treatment, cleanser, toner, acne treatment and concealer. Some products containing the ingredient are ClearChoice Lumilacti.C, Ana María Crema Facial Aclarante and Hava Zingboim Age Protection Cream
Hydroquinone mostly comes in form of cream, lotion, gel and emulsion. Some products having the compound are Zo Skin Health Pigment Control Creme 4% HQ-RX, Ambi Fade Cream for Normal Skin and Esoterica Facial.
Since Diacetyl Boldine is a natural extract coming from a plant, it’s considered safe on skin. Not just that, a study also reveals that the use of this ingredient showed visible results without any side effects. Hence, products containing Diacetyl Boldine are recommended more than the ones with Hydroquinone. Although rare, there might be mild side effects due to allergic reactions and in that case, it’s better to stop using it and seek medical attention.
Higher concentration of hydroquinone, especially if it ranges from 6 to 8% or over isn’t safe for use since it can lead to multiple skin-related issues like Ochronosis and skin irritations. Since FDA states that it’s not generally recognized as safe and effective and has harmful side effects, products containing hydroquinone need FDA approval. Because of this, hydroquinone, especially Over-The-Counter product use has been banned in the Europe, Australia, and Japan.
Use of Diacetyl Boldine may come with some side effects such as skin irritation, itching and redness. Some severe ones include swelling and hives. However, such reactions occur rarely depending on the sensitivity of individuals.
Adverse effects of hydroquinone include skin irritation, redness, dryness, flaking and peeling. Some people may also suffer from Ochronosis. Since there are many safety concerns and harmful consequences involving the compound, it’s important to talk to an expert before using it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use Diacetyl Boldine and Hydroquinone Interchangeably?
No, it’s not suggested to use Diacetyle Boldine and Hydroquinone interchangeably as they have differences in functions, efficacy and safety profiles. Although both combat hyperpigmentation, Diacetyl helps lighten skin rapidly by stopping melanin production or transfer or melanin directly while Hydroquinone uses highly reactive agents to prevent melanin production.
What Not To Use With Hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone should not be used with products having hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide as it can lead to irritation, dryness and dark stains on skin. Also avoid contents like alpha hydroxyl acids, glycolic, lactic and citric varieties since it can cause skin irritation.
In case you did use them together, wash your hands or the smeared areas immediately with a mild soap.
Is Diacetyl Boldine Safe For Skin?
Yes, Diacetyl Boldine is pretty safe for skin since it helps prevent melanin from being produced or transferred to upper layer of skin without any adverse effects. Note that, some individuals may have allergies to the agent even though it’s rare. In that case, make sure to talk to a dermatologist.
Hydroquinone vs Diacetyl Boldine: Which One is Better?
Diacetyl Boldine is a better, safer and quicker alternative to Hydroquinone since it deactivates free radicals as well as stops melanin activity without severe side effects unlike the latter which does the same with some possible aftereffects. Even though Diacetyl Boldine can be used as standalone or with other skincare products in place of Hydroquinone-based products, it’s not applicable the other way around.
It takes around 2 months for Diacetyl Boldine to see the difference whereas Hydroquinone takes 2 to 6 months.
Moreover, a study by Walai-Orn Pratchyapurit also mentions that the combined use of diacetyl boldine and TGF-β1 biomimetic oligopeptide-68 provided significant efficiency and faster action on pigment reduction than Hydroquinone.
Speaking of which, hydroquinone also helps offer the same benefits, however, it’s better to take advice from dermatologist before using it. Even if you do use it, make sure to get an FDA-approved product and check the ingredient list for any allergies. It’s better to layer hydroquinone with sunscreen to get the best result.
Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.