Some skin lightening ingredients work extremely well in the short term, but when used over a longer period of time, damages our skin.
Hydroquinone is one of them.
Hydroquinone is a widely-used skin lightening ingredient found in some over-the-counter, cosmetic and prescription products.
It is usually combined with other ingredients (such as alpha hydroxy acids and tretinoin) to increase its penetration and effectiveness.
Hydroquinone lightens skin by inhibiting tyrosinase, which is responsible for catalyzing melanin production (it prevents the conversion of dopa to melanin).
Hydroquinone has also been shown to be toxic to melanocytes, the cells in our skin that produces pigment or melanin.
Safety and effectiveness of hydroquinone (2%, 4%, and higher)
The application of 2% hydroquinone will lead to some lightening in both normal skin and hyperpigmented skin.
While low 2% concentrations of hydroquinone appear to be safe, it should not be used for more than 6 months.
At higher concentrations of 4% and above, hydroquinone appears to be more effective in lightening skin. A 5% concentration of hydroquinone will reduce tyrosinase activity by 50%.
However, higher concentrations also raises the risk of irritation and may actually create or worsen hyperpigmentation.
Prolonged and continuous use may cause paradoxical hyperpigmentation or permanently damage skin through exogenous ochronosis.
No matter the concentration, hydroquinone creams can only produce a partial change in skin color at the most. They are more effective for treating light spots than dark ones. On darker spots, hydroquinone can produce about a 50% improvement at best.
Hydroquinone is banned in many countries and highly regulated in others
There have been many concerns about the toxicity of hydroquinone, and its potential ability to mutate cells.
Hydroquinone has been banned in Europe and Japan, and is highly regulated in Asia. The sale of over-the-counter skin bleaching creams containing hydroquinone was banned in South Africa in 1992.
In the US, 2% hydroquinone can be bought over-the-counter, while higher 4% concentrations require a doctor’s prescription.
In Canada, 2% or 4% hydroquinone can be bought without a prescription.
Skin lightening creams with dangerous levels of hydroquinone
This is not an inclusive list.
|Maxi White S1 Lightening Cream Gel – Strong Formula||Labo Farmax||9%|
|Body Clear Cream – Lightening Body Cream||Picos-ci||2.6%|
|Skin light, Super Lightening Body Lotion||Rodis||5%|