Is Hydroquinone Safe and Effective?

Two French chemists discovered hydroquinone on 1820. It was only used to develop photographs back then. Fast forward to 1978, the FDA approved the use of hydroquinone for topical applications. Since then, it took the cosmetic industry by a storm! Hydroquinone has been hailed as the ultimate skin whitening agent by the masses. Nevertheless, is hydroquinone safe as others claim it to be?

Is Hydroquinone Safe and Effective?

Aesthetic clinics use it for skin bleaching and scar treatments. Its double-quick efficiency in regards to skin whitening captures the hearts of many.

Hydroquinone inhibits tyrosinase, an enzymatic activity responsible for producing pigmented skin cells. Two to four percent hydroquinone are infused in creams, serums, and lotions to be effective.

However, dermatologists don’t chime in with the praises hydroquinone receives. Medical studies show that it has major disadvantages, particularly for long-term use. In fact, several European countries have already banned this ingredient.

Risks of Hydroquinone Use

Hydroquinone remains FDA-approved in America, but the US Cosmetics Ingredient Review Panel have already discouraged its use due to its associated health risks. This includes the following:


Hydroquinone is not hypoallergenic. So, avoid this ingredient at all costs, particularly if you have sensitive skin. Even 2% hydroquinone is enough to cause redness, inflammation, and itching.

Eruptive skin conditions

Hydroquinone can cause more than minor skin irritations. Hypersensitive individuals may contract hives, contact dermatitis, and even asthma.


Hydroquinone causes abnormal sensitivity to ultraviolet light. It accelerates burning and blistering of the skin. Take note: sunburns weaken skin and increases your risk of skin cancer.

Irreversible hyperpigmentation

True, hydroquinone whitens the skin and corrects highly pigmented areas as fast as lightning. But when you stop using hydroquinone, the suppressed melanin becomes even more progressive. 

Accelerates aging

Being dependent on hydroquinone-based products degenerate collagen and elastin fibers. The effects of premature skin aging becomes more pronounced as you get older.

Adverse effects

Hydroquinone provides adverse results when used with other skincare products, particularly when you use acne correctors containg benzoyl peroxide. It also becomes toxic when exposed to sunlight.


Long-term use of hydroquinone can lead to exogenous ochronosis, which is a symptom of phenol poisoning. It is characterized by bluish black marks, small bumps, and a thick leathery texture.

Liver and kidney disease

The liver and kidneys influence various metabolic processes, including the regulation of toxins. The two filtering systems can’t properly metabolize hydroquinone, according to various clinical studies. In fact, a study involving animal test subjects showed signs of liver and kidney damage.  

Moreover, these complications should come as no surprise since skin whitening products containing hydroquinone usually come hand in hand with harsh chemicals, such as mercury.

Miscarriage and birth defects

Lactating moms and those with child should skip out on hydroquinone. Even 2% concentration can kill a fetus or cause birth defects, such as blindness and growth retardation.

Increases cancer risk

Truth be told, hydroquinone is not directly associated with cancer. Medical studies were all performed on rats. Nevertheless, you cannot deny its potential cancer-causing effects.

That is why the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database has already listed hydroquinone as a carcinogen. It is common sense that hydroquinone has deadly consequences; hence, several European countries banned its use.

What is the Best Substitute for Hydroquinone?

honeycomb kojic acid soap
Kojic Acid Soap

Is hydroquinone safe? If you’re unsure, know that nature is your best ally even in regards to skin whitening. Choose natural alternatives that are proven effective and safe for long-term use. Health-conscious skincare aficionados swear by kojic acid and papain. These two skincare ingredients leave little to no side effects. Aside from skin whitening, kojic acid and papain also provide a manifold of skincare benefits.

Papain vs Kojic Acid

papaya soap

Papain is the powerful beauty nutrient from papaya. For many years, it was the best natural skin whitening ingredient. Papain is highly regarded by dermatologists, too. It nourishes and clarifies skin as well as combat premature aging. 

However, kojic acid became the most coveted whitening ingredient since its breakthrough in skincare. It snatched the spotlight away from papain, but that’s par for the course. Kojic acid works faster compared to papain. What’s more, kojic acid exhibits antiseptic properties that benefit those who suffer acne.


Hydroquinone had its moment of glory. Now, it’s time to kiss it goodbye! Move on to what’s best for your skin. Choose whitening products that promise dramatic results without deadly consequences!

If many countries have banned the use of hydroquinone, that should leave you an idea regarding its safety. So, is hydroquinone safe? You be the judge!

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