Some skin lightening ingredients work extremely well in the short-term but when used over a longer period of time, actually damages our skin. Hydroquinone is one of them.
What is hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone is a widely used skin lightening ingredient found in over-the-counter, cosmetic and prescription products. Hydroquinone is usually combined with other ingredients (such as alpha hydroxy acids and tretinoin) to increase its penetration and effectiveness.
Hydroquinone works to lighten 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 cause some lightening in both normal skin and hyperpigmented skin. While low 2% concentrations of hydroquinone appear to be safe, you should not use it 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, these higher concentrations also raises the risk of irritation and may actually cause or worsen hyperpigmentation. Prolonged and continuous use may cause paradoxical hyperpigmentation or permanently damage skin through exogenous ochronosis.
No matter what the concentration, hydroquinone creams can only produce a partial change in skin color at the most. They are also 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 containing dangerous levels of hydroquinone
|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%||Lotion smells of cocoa butter|