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Hydroquinone: Is This Toxic Beauty at its Best?

Hydroquinone: Is This Toxic Beauty At Its Best?

That classic “English Rose” complexion, it’s what many of us strive for.

But could it be, that one of these lightening ingredients is actually doing more harm than good?

If you’ve got stubborn dark spots or hyperpigmentation, you’ve probably come across some advice involving hydroquinone.

A controversial topical skin-lightening agent that is banned in New Zealand, European Union, Japan, and Australia; yet it is still frequently used in many countries and prescribed by U.S. dermatologists.

What is hydroquinone?

Hydroquinone is a crystalline chemical compound that was first discovered in the 1800s; it was used in just about everything from skincare lightening to developing photos.

Hydroquinone is used as a depigmentation or skin-lightening agent in skincare products. It can help to lighten areas of dark skin including; hyperpigmentation, freckles, and melasma caused by hormonal fluctuations, scarring, and acne.

It works by inhibiting the effects of tyrosinase, which is an enzyme necessary in producing the pigment melanin in the skin; whilst it is an effective agent for lightening your skin, there has been some debate about hydroquinone’s side effects.

Whilst we rarely do scare-mongering about ingredients; however, we feel the ingredient hydroquinone should, in this instance, go under the spotlight, this article looks at whether or not hydroquinone is safe, and whether it poses any risk?

Let’s take a look at the facts.

Hydroquinone has been banned in Europe as a consumer product, due to its rare occurrence with a condition called ochronosis – a type of reflexive darkening of the skin, which is basically the opposite of its intended use — it can cause irregular, mottled, blue-black staining when the skin and nails are exposed to the sun.

When you use hydroquinone to treat dark spots, any product in contact with the surrounding skin will also lighten those areas, so the intended spot may be lightened, but the surrounding skin will also lighten compared to normal skin, and create a light de-pigmented halo around the area treated.

If your skin is sensitive, hydroquinone frequently causes irritations like itchiness and redness in skins that are sensitive or barrier-compromised or sensitive. This can result in dryness, and increased inflammation in your skin, especially when combined with sun exposure and repeated topical use, which has been on occasion known to cause contact dermatitis.

It could also be a possible carcinogenic; there is a school of thought that hydroquinone is a potent cytotoxic, causing mutations and alterations to DNA. Still, currently, no research has indicated it can cause cancer.

The law and hydroquinone

In 1982, a rule was drawn up by the FDA, that up to 2% hydroquinone was safe and effective to use in over-the-counter products, however, in 2006 this ruling was withdrawn, because of its link with exogenous ochronosis. Since 2016, the FDA has recommended further studies to be carried out under the noxious toxicology program, to determine exactly what risk hydroquinone poses. Until then, it is still available for sale.

The American Journal of Toxicology also found, evidence it can cause cancer in rodents.

In New Zealand, it has been banned as a skin-lightening agent in cosmetics – yet worryingly, it is still found in several illegal products sold here.

Interestingly, the Environmental Protection Agency also does not permit the use of this ingredient by an aesthetician for skin whitening purposes.

Hydroquinone comes under different guises

But there is a catch because hydroquinone falls under many guises:

  • quinol
  • benzene-1
  • 4-Diol
  • p-Diphenol
  • p-Dihydroxyl benzene
  • hydroquinone
  • p-Hydroxyl phenol
  • hydrochinonium
  • hydroquinol


When it comes to hydroquinone until the FDA, finishes their conclusive research into this ingredient, the jury is still out for us.

We at the Naked Chemist choose never to take any ingredient for granted, all of our formulas undergo rigorous tests before we feel comfortable using certain ingredients on our customer’s skin – a painstaking but important task.

As a result, we have found some wonderful, safe alternatives to skin lightening; natural extracts including kojic acid, grape seed extract, niacinamide, and more, that have a skin-lightening effect to help you achieve that Cleopatra complexion.

Follow the link to read about natural ingredients that treat sunspots on skin.

11 thoughts on “Hydroquinone: Is This Toxic Beauty at its Best?

  1. Malika says:


    Thanks so much for this thorough breakdown of the chemistry behind hydroquinone, and for your cautious tone. I also sympathize with the other commenters that have gone through very rough experiences with it. I’ll certainly be proceeding with caution.



  2. Tom says:

    Great article – the best way to approach hydroquinone is with caution. The risk of cancer is still unproven in humans with “some evidence” shown in rodents. Toxicology studies indicate that hydroquinone is toxic when orally ingested at high concentrations. Hydroquinone naturally occurs in many foods that we normally eat, like coffee, fruits, beer, but at small quantities that don’t impact the body. Skin irritation, contact dermatitis, and higher risk of sunburn are more common side effects to watch out for.

  3. Mike hays says:

    It has caused premature aging loss of collagen tops of my cheeks now have deep wrinkles they did use to have the shiny English rose appearance, my cheeks are constantly red i cannot expose my face to the sun, i no longer have pigmentation protection, that pigment has been turned off, I am conscious of my cheeks now in company and they will blush bright red for no reason other than i am conscious of them because they are always tingling, the beautician has turned me into a freak, my cheeks where not even the problem, i had sun damage on the side of my head and forehead i used Hydroquinone on my cheeks to blend it in, other scares also now show up, it has taken away my ability to function properly in society, it is Dangerous do not use it, try all other options, i was not fully informed of the possible consequences of using this, she clearly did not know how this functions, it is a prescription only medicene and she is a unregistered Beautician no less, it has been hell and will continue all my life to be hell.

    • Samantha Miller says:

      Hi Mike
      This is awful i am so sorry, once again a classic case of inexperienced therapists taking the law into their own and, yet they are dealing with our most important feature in many respects our face. I am so sorry for your problem, but thank you for the share! You should report her!

  4. Dr.Paul C. Li says:

    Dear Mdm: Hydroquinone is used to terminate polymerization chain reactions in many many organic synthetic chemistries.The darkening of skin containing the so called melanins (see Merck Index 14th Ed.2006 no.5812) may involve the oxidative polymerization cystinyldopas via 1,4 benzothiazine intermediates. So the application of hydroquinone in ppm range may be good for reducing its processes. I guess the user might get a feeling on what concentration range and the frequencies are appropriate for each individual so as to minimize the risks by increasing either concentrations or the frequencies gradually at a later time. My name isDr. Paul C. Li, a Ph.D chemist. who humbly correlated the functions of Hydroquinone in polymer chemistry and that in darkening of skins with the help of reliable source, the Merck Index. The concentration ranges from 40 to 450 ppm. Best Regards, submitted on Dec.9th of 2015

  5. Teresa White says:

    Very interesting blog! Thanks for sharing.
    It is just so sad how people, in general, will put whatever on their skin without asking questions or truly researching the ingredients. I am guilty of doing this in the past but after now battling an autoimmune disease I dissect and analyze anything I put in and on my body.

    • Samantha Miller says:

      Theresa I am glad you are enjoying the blog. I really hope the educational side helps others become their own label detective, rather then having to take the word of unscrupulous manufacturers, that spend a great deal of money trying to pull the wool over consumers eyes with clever marketing!Thanks for the feedback.

  6. JJ says:

    Hi Samantha I was really interested in this article, because I have used Hydroquinone in lightening products and I was not aware of any of these side effects very worrying! Thanks for sharing.

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