Is Hydroquinone Safe? Learn the Truth about this Popular Skin-Lightener and Why It Mistakenly Got a Bad Rap

Hyperpigmentation treatment is a highly controversial topic these days. Dark spots, age spots, melasma and acne scars can be extremely stubborn and challenging to eliminate once you have them. That’s why a simple and convenient solution such as Hydroquinone skin-lightening cream is so appealing. Even though Hydroquinone has been used for over 50 years, and has established itself as the most effective ingredient for combating skin discoloration, it has garnered some unwanted attention as of late.

Let’s Start with the Basics: What is Hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone (HQ) is a well-known topical treatment for hyperpigmentation. It works by preventing melanin-generating cells (melanocytes) from producing pigment. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t bleach the skin but rather “blocks the conversion of dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA) to melanin by inhibiting tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme of plant and animal tissues that catalyzes the production of melanin and other pigments.”

Proposed Ban on Hydroquinone and Current Status

The trouble started in South Africa more than a decade ago due to concerns over Hydroquinone side-effects such as toxicity, cancer and a rare medical condition called Ochronosis (darkening and thickening of skin).

Jumping to conclusion that Hydroquinone was harmful turned out to be premature. It was discovered that the South African formulations contained high levels of mercury, glucocorticoids and other illegal ingredients that were causing the toxicity. Furthermore, the cancer connection was never shown to be true. Fears were predominantly theoretical, based on animal studies. To date no human clinical trials have been presented which link topical Hydroquinone use with increased rates of skin cancer.

Nevertheless, on August 29, 2006 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ban on topical Hydroquinone. After a lengthy comments period from the public, the verdict on the proposed FDA ban is still pending and Hydroquinone products are readily available across the country.

Hydroquinone Skin-Brightening Products Considered Gold Standard

Hydroquinone remains controversial today because without having all the facts Europe, UK and Japan quickly jumped on the HQ ban train despite a plethora of evidence showing to the contrary. The truth is when properly compounded Hydroquinone is not harmful. In fact, quite the opposite is true as there’s a considerable body of evidence showing hydroquinone to be safe and extremely effective

Is Hydroquinone Safe?

Currently products containing Hydroquinone four percent (or higher) are readily available with a doctor’s prescription. When used consistently and as directed, Hydroquinone cream can effectively treat most pigment related skin issues. It can take several weeks, months sometimes, to see results. As the old damaged skin cells slough away the pigment lesions gradually diminish revealing a more even-toned complexion.

Obagi Clear and Obagi Blender Nu-Derm – Hydroquinone 4% Pigment Correctors

At Azala Medical Aesthetics we especially love Obagi Clear with Hydroquinone 4 percent and Obagi Blender 4 percent, both part of the Nu-Derm collection. Both of these skin brightening products are designed to lighten dark spots, sun spots, age spots, melasma and other types of hyperpigmentation.

Many of our patients have experienced outstanding results with these prescription products and we would not hesitate to recommend them for most skin types to treat mild to moderate skin discoloration. 

We invite you to visit Azala Medical Aesthetics if you’re interested in Hydroquinone pigment correctors If you’re a current patient you don’t need to have an appointment to purchase any of our medical-grade skincare products. If you’re not currently a patient with us, we’ll need to do a quick medical clearance as these products are prescription-strength. Simply drop by our clinic and one of our skin experts will guide you in choosing the right solutions to help you achieve healthy, luminous skin.


* Individual results may vary, and not guaranteed.

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