This is the story of two mothers: mine, who came to New York to visit me last week, and invention’s. Because when the best ingredient to treat hyperpigmentation is banned in a major market, you’re forced to get creative.
But first let’s back up, to the part about my mom. She was in the city and booked a facial at SB Skin, the Soho studio best known for microcurrent treatments. On the agenda was a quick lift and a minute to relax—but when she got there, her aesthetician Agnes got a good look at her hyperpigmentation. It’s melasma, one of the most frustrating skin conditions because it’s associated with hormonal fluctuations and flares up with even the tiniest bit of stress, cycle shift, or sun exposure. My mom had tried almost everything to get rid of her patchy spots, including prescription hydroquinone, the gold standard for stubborn pigment treatment among American derms. She explained to Agnes that it helped for a while, but also left her with white spots of hypopigmentation, an irreversible symptom of irritation where the skin completely loses color. Agnes nodded, and said that her skin is probably too sensitive for hydroquinone. Instead, she recommended something with Thiamidol.
Agnes is Polish, and before coming to work at SB Skin she spent several years training and treating skin in Europe. Hydroquinone is banned in the EU (of which Poland is a part), and when Thiamidol hit the market a few years ago Agnes started suggesting it to clients in hydroquinone’s stead. She swore it worked even better at lightening melasma specifically, and was also suitable for sensitive skin and people who had adverse reactions to hydroquinone in the past. Agnes scribbled down some info on a piece of paper, along with a few products with Thiamidol in them and a website that would ship from Europe, handed it to my mom, and sent her on her way. Then my mom called me.
Thiamidol was discovered when the German personal care giant Beiersdorf set out on a quest to find a viable alternative to hydroquinone. Their scientists tested over 50,000 different ingredients, hoping one of them would do the trick. Thiamidol flew under researchers’ radar for a long time, because brightening skincare is usually tested on mushrooms (really!), and this stuff is useless on shroom pigment. Popular brightening ingredients like hydroquinone, arbutin, and kojic acid work really well on mushrooms, so at first Thiamidol might’ve seemed like a dud. But, as you can imagine, mushrooms are pretty different from skin, and when the Beiersdorf researchers swapped in human cells, their data painted a totally different picture. In study after study, Thiamidol worked better than hydroquinone. Partially because it didn’t seem to come with any of hydroquinone’s gnarly side effects, like redness, itchiness, dryness, or potential worsening of discoloration, that would cause a user to stop using it. Since then, independent researchers across the globe have confirmed Beiersdorf’s results. Not only does this mean Thiamidol is a fantastic tool to keep in your melasma-fighting kit, but it might also be a smarter brightening alternative for anyone with brown or Black skin. That thing where hydroquinone makes pigmentation worse is more common among darker skin tones.
You’ll find Thiamidol in products from European versions of Eucerin, Nivea (they call it “Molecule 630”), and La Prairie, because Beiersdorf owns them all. (FYI, in case you go looking, it’ll be on an ingredient list as its scientific name, isobutylamido thiazolyl resorcinol.) Agnes likes the Eucerin ones best, which are conveniently under 40 bucks each, and told my mom to start a regimen of the serum, night cream, and SPF day cream (Beiersdorf’s results were best when the Thiamidol was applied multiple times a day), followed by an extra layer of SPF 50. And with a few strategic clicks on Care To Beauty, followed by $5 in shipping, my mom’s order was on the way.
Photo via ITG