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Hydroquinone is a topically-applied drug that is used to treat dark patches of skin, including age spots and hyper-pigmentation due to hormones or other conditions. This ingredient works to lighten the skin by decreasing the activity of melanin within the skin; melanin is what causes the darkening of areas of the skin.

Hydroquinone Skin Bleaching

While hydroquinone is not found as commonly in skin bleaching products as it once was, it is still a primary ingredient in many products that are marketed specifically for skin-lightening purposes. The concern with hydroquinone as an ingredient is that in recent scientific studies, hydroquinone has been found to have a number of negative properties; it is classified as a toxic substance that is a known carcinogen and can suppress the body's immune system and the proper functioning of the endocrine system.

The issues surrounding hydroquinone have led to the ban of this ingredient in cosmetic products in France, the United Kingdom, and several other countries. While hydroquinone is not yet banned for use in products sold in the United States, the FDA has issued a recommendation that it be banned. Several medical research studies are underway that are studying the effects of hydroquinone; some scientists have warned that hydroquinone has been found to be clastogenic, immunotoxic, and mutagenic.

In spite of the dangers associated with the use of skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone, there are still a fair number of products on the market that contain this ingredient. Hydroquinone is effective at bleaching dark areas of skin, but careful consumers know that the risks of using this ingredient far outweigh the benefits.

Currently, the FDA allows skin-bleaching products that contain up to 2% hydroquinone to be sold without a prescription within the U.S.; products for skin whitening that contain up to 4% hydroquinone may be sold in the U.S. with a medical prescription.

Hydroquinone Side Effects

While some patients tolerate hydroquinone fairly well, most report some kinds of side effects from the use of this medication. The most common side effects that are reported include stinging, irritation, redness, and dryness. Severe side effects, which are unusual but do occasionally occur, include skin cracking, blistering, and blue-black skin discoloration.

Hydroquinone has also been indicated as the causative agent in ochronosis, a skin condition in which the skin thickens and becomes darker.

Medical professionals recommend that pregnant and nursing women avoid using hydroquinone.

Best Skin Lightener

The most important consideration when selecting a skin-lightening product is to choose one that will not pose a risk to the body's health. Creams and serums that contain hydroquinone clearly do not fall into the category of “safe” products. While hydroquinone can be effective at addressing dark skin and spots caused by age, sun exposure, or hormones, the risks posed by the use of this ingredient are clearly not worth it.

Instead of choosing a skin-bleaching product containing hydroquinone, search for creams that use safe, non-toxic ingredients like Asafetida Extract, Kojic Acid Ester, and Vitamin C to effectively lighten the skin without any harmful side effects.