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Does Ambi Fade Cream Really Work?


Dear Nicki,

I noticed Ambi Fade Cream at my local drugstore, and I was wondering if it works. Any thoughts?


Dear Jamie,

In a word: YES. Ambi Fade Cream ($9.28, does in fact work. For the exceptionally low price — just $3.99 an ounce depending on where you purchase it — it sounds almost too good to be true. But it isn't.

The Secret: Hydroquinone


A 2% concentration of hydroquinone is the secret to Ambi Fade Cream. Generally available over-the-counter in 2% concentration and in prescription formulas in 4% concentration, hydroquinone has been FDA-approved for the treatment of freckles, melasma, and general brown patching since 1982. Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, the rate-limiting enzyme of melanin production, and by increasing the cytotoxicity of melanocytes (melanin-producing cells). Its efficacy has been well-established over time, including in a 2003 study in The International Journal of Dermatology, where it was found to reduce signs of hyperpigmentation associated with melasma by a whopping 76.9%, beating another skin whitening complex at 66.7%.

But Wait: Isn't Hydroquinone Controversial?

Yes and no. Hydroquinone has been banned in some countries, including France and South Africa, for concerns about increased cancer risk and ochronosis (darkening of the skin) with its use. In 2010, the U.S. FDA raised concerns about the use of hydroquinone and other skin-bleaching agents, as they reported that they wish to “re-establish that over-the-counter (OTC) skin bleaching drug products are not generally recognized as safe and effective.

Hydroquinone has specifically been associated with paradoxical skin darkening when it is used in conjunction with resorcinol, another ingredient commonly found in skin-lightening creams (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 1997; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2001).

Yet most dermatologists and skin care experts in the U.S. are not concerned. According to renowned dark skin expert Dr. Susan C. Taylor, M.D., a Philadelphia-based dermatologist, "The maximum levels of hydroquinone currently allowed [2 percent for over the counter, 4 percent for prescription] aren’t dangerous. At worst, it might cause redness or irritation, but only if your skin is sensitive or allergic to the medication.”

What's more, the studies that implied hydroquinone may be harmful stemmed from an early study that demonstrated mice exposed to hydroquinone developed liver tumors. However, according to a 2006 review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, these results were reported in a misleading fashion. Rather, hydroquinone increased the number of benign liver tumors, reducing the proportion of cancerous liver tumors in the mouse, showing a protective effect of hydroquinone. (For you science buffs out there, there was an increase in hepatic adenomas and a decrease in hepatocellular carcinomas). It has further been argued that kidney tumors associated with hydroquinone in the mouse do not appear relevant to humans after decades of widespread use.

As such, it seems that topically applied treatments with hydroquinone are safe, as Dr. David J. Goldberg, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine states, “Over 100 scientific articles confirm hydroquinone is a safe topical for humans; no independent studies prove the opposite.”

What to Expect from Ambi Fade Cream 

With that said, expect Ambi Fade Cream to improve signs of hyperpigmentation (i.e., uneven pigmentation, age spots) within four to six weeks of daily use. In addition to 2% hydroquinone, Ambi Fade Cream also contains soy protein and lactic acid, which have both been demonstrated to have milder but still mentionable effects on hyperpigmentation as well.  

As far as drugstore products go, I have not found one better for signs of hyperpigmentation than Ambi Fade Cream. However, my qualm about the product is that it says it contains "sunscreen." First and foremost, as a general rule of thumb for my readers, applying to this or any other product: If it doesn't list the SPF on the package, it doesn't provide enough UV coverage to be used as your sole form of sun protection. Period. Ambi Fade Cream contains 2% octinoxate, which breaks down in the presence of other sunscreens containing avobenzone (Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2007).

Bottom Line

Ambi Fade Cream contains one of the best ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation: Hydroquinone. While there's been some concern about hydroquinone, it really hasn't been found in studies to be dangerous, though it can cause ochronosis or darkening of the skin in some patients, so use it in four month cycles and under the care of a dermatologist. As for Ambi Fade Cream, it claims to have sunscreen, but it doesn't — so wear additional sunscreen. The bottom line is this: I love Ambi Fade Cream, but I wouldn't count on it for a sunscreen!

Ingredients: Active Ingredients Hydroquinone[2%], Skin Bleaching Agent, Padimate O[2.0%], Sunscreen

Inactive Ingredients Betaine (Sugar Beet) , Butylene Glycol , Cetearyl Alcohol , Cyclomethicone , Cyclopentasiloxane , Dimethicone Crosspolymer , Disodium EDTA , Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate , Ethylparaben , Fragrance , Glycerin , Glyceryl Stearate , Glycene Soja (Soybean) ProteinSoybean , Hydroxyethyl Urea , Isopropyl Myristate , Lactic Acid , Methylparaben , PEG 100 Stearate , PEG 16 Soy Sterol , Pentaerythrityl Tetra Di T Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate , Potassium Cetyl Phosphate , Propylparaben , Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C) , Sodium Metabisulfite , Stearic Acid , Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E) , Water

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Date: February 23 2012 at 12:22 PM
Skin Care, ambi fade cream, ambi fade cream review, ambi review, hydroquinone, hyperpigmentation, ochronosis, Resorcinol, dangers of hydroquinone, best ingredients to treat hyperpigmentation

Comments (19)

  1. newnoona
    February 23 2012 at 12:39 PM

    This is an amazing article. Thank you

  2. Jessica Allison
    February 23 2012 at 12:45 PM

    Nicki- I'm so glad you posted this article; the subject of hydroquinone has me somewhat confused on one point and I'm wondering if you can set me straight. Since the mechanism of hydroquinone is such that it inhibits melanin production, does this mean that it's lightening effects are temporary? In other words, will the same dark spots reappear when a person stops using the product?

  3. shinelle williams
    April 27 2012 at 7:15 AM

    i am relief that i find this supernatural cream so long i have been looking for number one cream and i found it it really get rid and black mark and highlight your completion it dont smell orfull now i am looking beautiful than never i recommend this lovely product

  4. Mallory
    May 21 2012 at 5:00 AM

    Can I use this on the age spots that are starting to appear on my 45 yo arm? If not this what would you suggest? I am looking for prducts and or treatments to get rid of these instant agers! love your blog BTW-just discovered it

  5. Nicki
    May 22 2012 at 3:37 AM

    @Jessica - Unfortunately, if you don't change your habits (i.e., avoid the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM, wear a hat, use sunscreen religiously), when you stop using hydroquinone, your skin will have the tendency to reform sun spots in the same locations they were previously. This is because melanin is the skin's natural way of protecting itself from UV light. If you "bleach" the spots, stop using the lightening agent, and re-expose yourself to the sun in the same exact manner, the spots will reappear. :-(

  6. Nicki
    May 22 2012 at 3:37 AM

    @Shinelle - I'm so glad you liked it!

  7. Nicki
    May 22 2012 at 3:40 AM

    @Mallory - Yes, you can use Ambi Fade Cream on your arm, provided that you do not have dark skin. If that is the case, check with your dermatologist first, as you may be at risk for ochronosis. (While quite rare, this condition is much more common amongst those with darker skin types). I will also suggest that you take preventative measures to ensure that the sunspots do not worsen now or return after treatment. I would suggest clothing with UPF (long-sleeves even in the summer between 10 AM and 4 PM, sorry!), sun avoidance between 10 AM and 4 PM except for 15 minutes/week to ensure proper vitamin D production, and religious sunscreen use. Keep in mind the most common location for skin cancer is not the face or head as many believe, but the lower legs for women. Body sunscreen is a MUST!

  8. Keith Dundas
    May 31 2012 at 3:00 PM

    Can you say if my spots will return when I stop using the product? My spots are from shaving bumps and ingrown hairs. Im African-American. Thank you

  9. Nicki
    June 1 2012 at 7:57 AM

    @Keith - If you stop using the product and don't start adopting better sun avoidance behaviors (i.e., wearing broad-spectrum UVA/UVB of at least 30 daily, wearing a sun hat, eating and applying more antioxidants, avoiding the sun between 10 AM - 4 PM except for 15 minutes/week for vitamin D purposes), it is likely these sun spots will return. Sunspots are deposits of melanin that form as a result of repeated sun exposure. Unless you change your habits after using any kind of sunspot removal treatment, they will come back. The only exception to this would be if a treatment was somehow able to permanently alter your melanin production, and I don't know of any treatments off the top of my head that do this! Hope this helps.

  10. Keith Dundas
    June 2 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Thanks Nicki, I'll take your advice.

  11. karla
    June 19 2012 at 6:29 AM

    I am currently using ambi to try to diminish the appearance of acne marks on my my face, back and shoulders. However, I am also using the acne free 3 step system which includes benzoyl peroxide a 2.5% on cleanser on a 10% on the cream. I use the acne free system then I use the ambi then a sunscreen spf 15/ moisturizer. Is this routine unsafe for me? Thanks! ;)

  12. Justys Williamson
    July 12 2012 at 5:07 PM

    Ambi Fade Cream DOES NOT WORK!!!!!!! I've tried it. It is by far the WORST skin cream I have ever used. It leaves your skin flaky and your pimples worst! Don't use this product EVER!!!!!!

  13. Davae
    July 13 2012 at 12:45 PM

    If I use this product for hyper pigmentation and scars and marks and stop after they have gone, can they return?

  14. Trina
    November 10 2012 at 3:08 AM

    I've used Ambi for years and it's worked for me. As you already know teenagers develop acne scars, I used it and it went away. This is the cream I recommended to my son and he likes it so far. It will irritate your skin if you use too much. You have to follow the instructions as directed. (once in the morning and once at night) It fade the dark spots within two weeks or less. Afterwards, it can be used a needed and you won't have anymore problems. You must limit staying in the sun too much during the summer. I don't use on hot days.

  15. Sara
    June 19 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Is there a significant percentage of Ana's in ambi? It mentions Aha's on the front of the product and I'm wondering if I can omit using my Alpha Hydroxide on days that I use ambi.

  16. Megan
    July 29 2013 at 11:55 AM

    I just would like to know if I can use ambi fade cream while I'm pregnant, so that I may start trying to fade the stretch marks I have before they get worse...

  17. Jai
    September 25 2013 at 12:43 AM

    Can i use it all over face for whitening ? is it only for dark spots ? what if i want to improve my skin complexion from brown to white? can i use this cream ?

  18. blossom
    October 13 2013 at 5:59 PM

    Am using ambii an still using secret oil and also lime. Would my spots remove?

  19. Dee
    October 13 2013 at 9:06 PM

    His, if you were born, going white will not be an improvement.

    With that being said, it's probably best to make sure your skin is even first, then apply to the whole face. Also, applying it to a small section of your skin first will help determine if you tolerate the cream well.
    If you don't suffer any reactions, apply to your whole face.

    l'm not going to lecture you about changing your color and self-pride, but I hope that you think before you do this.

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