Many people out there are using hydroquinone cream to brighten their skin tone. Even though this kind of cream is well known for whitening your skin, it’s also the main topic for several scientific disputes.
Even though it’s considered to be safe when taken under professional guidance, there are also voices out there that think quite the opposite. Not only the cream is dangerous, but it’s also lethal, no matter the quantity you’re using.
What is hydroquinone and which are its side effects
Hydroquinone is a skin lightener that is used for whitening creams and dark mark fade remedies as well. It lowers the production of melanin in your skin, which makes it a great solution for fading hyperpigmentation, sun spots, melasma, acne marks and other skin discolorations conditions.
The bad reputation of hydroquinone is caused by the studies that showed that hydroquinone may have some carcinogenic effects when applied to skin. Some think it’s cytotoxic (toxic to cells) and mutagenic as well.
There are some studies that show that using hydroquinone for a long time may lead to exogenous ochronosis- your skin turns bluish and black. This happens because hydroquinone isn’t just able to inhibit melanin production, whitening your skin, but it may also damage your pigment cells.
Here are some side effects of hydroquinone:
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Higher exposure to UV radiation
- Contact dermatitis and skin irritation
- Higher risk for developing hyperpigmentation
- Leathery, thick and bumpy skin
Using hydroquinone lowers the amount of melanin pigments in your skin, which also means that your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun. this also increases UVA and UVB exposure, but this also raises the risk of developing even more hyperpigmentation. you should always use a photo stable, a protective sunscreen.
When you’re exposing to sunlight, hydroquinone becomes toxic, which is why you should only use it as spot treatment and not all over your face.
Exogenous ochronosis and sun sensitivity aren’t the only side effects that long-term hydroquinone use may have. You may also notice your skin getting bumpy, leathery and thick.
There are also short-term side effects of hydroquinone and even if they’re not major, they’re still worth to mention: irritation, redness and contact dermatitis.
As the associated risks of hydroquinone are quite many, which may explain why it’s banned in several countries in Europe in Asia. As for the US, you may find hydroquinone products over-the-counter with a 2% hydroquinone concentration. The 4% hydroquinone are only provided under doctor’s orders.
Keep it safe when using hydroquinone
If you’re planning to start using a hydroquinone cream, you may want to check the list below as some categories should never use it under any circumstances:
- Eczema and psoriasis
- Pregnant women
- Anyone with a sensitive skin or allergy to hydroquinone
Keep also in mind that a hydroquinone cream may also interfere with various medications such as:
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Salicylic acid
- Hydrogen peroxide.
As for the immediate reactions, some people developed some obvious immediate reactions:
- Stinging or light burning sensation
- Slight dryness or redness of skin
If you’re not developing this type of reactions the second time you’re applying the hydroquinone cream, you may safely keep on using it. When the problem doesn’t go away, it’s better to stop and go to your dermatologist as soon as possible.
In order to minimize the risk of side effects, it’s better to pay attention to some matters. It’s well known that the cream may counteract with specific medicines, which is why you should always inform your doctor.
Some people have to be even more careful:
- If you’re taking herbal medicines or you are using some herbal treatment
- It you’re planning to get pregnant/if you’re breastfeeding
- If you have various allergies to foods, medicines and other stuffs
- If you’re using medicines (no matter if they’re prescribed or not)
The list of safety rules
If you’re planning to use hydroquinone, here are some rules you need to follow in order to do it safely:
- Do a patch test
If you’re using the hydroquinone for the very first time, apply a small amount of cream on the skin. Wait for a day to see if you develop any redness, excessive irritation or blistering. If you’re noticing side effects like this, it’s better to get in touch with your doctor. Stop the use of cream right the way. No reactions as mentioned above? You have a green light on using it!
- Always clean and dry
You need to make sure that the area you’re going to apply on the cream is clean and dry. You should only apply afterwards, as even as you can. Wash your hands right after you applied the cream,
- Respect the schedule
If you skip one time of applying the cream, do it as soon as you remember. If you’re getting to close to the next dosage, it’s better only to apply it once. Try to follow your schedule next time and never use double dosages at the same time.
- Wear sunscreen
As a matter of fact, try to stay away from sun ray as much as you can. If that’s not possible, it’s better to wear sunscreen (at least 20SPF) every time you’re going outside.
- Never use it on open wounds
this rule doesn’t even need more notes. You should never put hydroquinone cream on an open wound or injured skin.
- It’s only for external use
The hydroquinone cream is only made for the topical application or external use. Under no circumstances you should swallow, inhale or put it into your eyes.
- Keep the children away from it
This sums it up all: keep the hydroquinone cream away from children’s reach at all time.
- Don’t use it for more then 4-months
The moment you stop taking hydroquinone, your skin’s natural pigmentation will return. This doesn’t mean you can never stop using hydroquinone. The continuous use of it may cause ochronosis, a darkening of the skin.
Therefore, you shouldn’t use hydroquinone for more than 4month cycles, using some milder whitening products in between. You should consider kojic acid, arbutin, azelaic acid that are natural and efficient at the same time.
- Don’t use benzoyl peroxide products
You should never use benzoyl peroxide products while you’re using hydroquinone creams, as this may cause temporary staining of your skin. The staining may go away with some soap and water, but it’s better to stay on the safe side.
It’s also safe for you to not use oxygen-infusing skin care treatments when you’re using hydroquinone creams.
- No resorcinol products either
People with darker skin present a higher risk for developing ochronisis and the connection between the use or resorcinol and hydroquinone is well-known. Many of the ochronosis cases out there are related also to resorcinol.
You should never use hydroquinone creams with any resorcinol skin lightening treatments. Each of these treatments has its efficiency, but combining them doesn’t make them stronger, but more dangerous for your skin.
- Always stay away from your eyes
Even though many out there fear that hydroquinone causes cancer, it’s the pigmentation of the eye and permanent corneal damage that you should really worry about. This may happen only when your eye is exposed to hydroquinone, but it’s still a fact that you should consider and a rule that you need to follow.
Therefore, always apply the hydroquinone away from your eye areas.
The cancer issue
Even though there are many out there that believe hydroquinone leads to cancer, it’s better to be informed on the real story.
Truth be told, a study on mice showed that exposing them to hydroquinone develops liver tumors. The results were published only the cause misinformation.
As a matter of fact, hydroquinone isn’t harmful to the skin, but may increase the number of benign (non-cancerous) liver tumors, while lowering the proportion of cancerous liver tumors in mice. This actually means that hydroquinone may in fact have protective effects.
There are other studies focusing on the link between hydroquinone use and kidney tumors, but many argued that the results don’t apply to human. There are more than 100 scientific articles showing theat hydroquinone is a safe topical for humans and no independent study to show otherwise.
Yes, we do know that hydroquinone is forbidden in European Union, but it’s also frequently used in Japan, South Korea and several Asian countries. And we all know that cancer rates are so low in Asian countries.
Fair and square, hydroquinone isn’t a cancer-causing agent and we should a higher rate for cancer in Asian countries too.
The final rule
You should never use a hydroquinone cream without checking it with your doctor first, especially if the concentration is higher than 4%. No matter the skin complexion that you’re trying to solve, it’s better to see hydroquinone as the last solution that you can try. This isn’t because of the controversy that it still presents, but because you need to be cautious when using it, even though you don’t have an immediate skin reaction to it.