Beauty Ingredients Demystified — Hydroquinone


According to Rebat Halder, M.D. on WebMD, Hydroquinone is “the gold standard for pigmentary disorders.” This skin bleaching indredient lightens dark areas such as age spots, freckles, acne scarring, and other hyperpigmentations caused by skin disorders such as chloasma and melasma. Hydroquinone works by decreasing skin’s ability to produce melanin, the substance that is responsible for creating pigment in skin and hair.

For more troublesome dark patchs, prescription strength products with hydroquinone are available through your dermatologist. A 2% concentration is available over the counter. These milder products may take a bit longer to lighten spots but should still be effective if used diligently.

The ingredient hydroquinone is not without controversy. In 2006, the FDA proposed a ban on over-the-counter products containing the drug. A study using rodents showed that hydroquinone is a possible carcinogen and it has been linked to a skin condition called ochronosis, a rare disease that causes skin to become thick and darken. However, according to a 2007 WebMD article, the American Academy of Dermatology stands behind the hydroquinone as no cases of skin or other cancers have been reported in connection with hydroquinone in its 40 years of use.

Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits before starting a hydroquinone treatment. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or if you have liver or kidney disease. A 24-hr allergy patch test is recommended prior to use. Additionally, be sure to apply a high-SPF sunscreen while using this medication as it makes skin more sensitive to the sun.

For a list of over-the-counter products containing hydroquinone, please refer to my roundup 15 Lightening and Brightening Products with Hydroquinone.


“Hydroquinone Topical.”, 15 December 2010.

Hertzig, Alyssa Kolsky. “Brighten Up.” WebMD, 20 August 2007.

“Drugs & Medications “Hydroquinone Skin Bleaching Top.” WebMD

Stoppler, Melissa Conrad, M.D. “FDA Proposes Hydroquinone Ban.” MedicineNet,15 September 2006.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Age Spots (Liver Spots).” Mayo Clinic, 24 February 2011.


Article Posted 3 years Ago

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