What Is Hydroquinone And Why This Bleaching Agent Is Banned?

What Is Hydroquinone And Why This Bleaching Agent Is Banned? What Is Hydroquinone And Why This Bleaching Agent Is Banned?

What Is Hydroquinone And Why This Bleaching Agent Is Banned?

A happy, healthy, and glowing face is a common desire. When you find noticeable dark spots on your face, your reaction is to freak out and immediately look for solutions. We understand that facial discolorations are frustrating to deal with. In current times, there are numerous creams available in the market that promise to give instant brightening effects to your skin. Amidst all this, you forget that it’s vital to understand ingredients before finding the cure.

It could be a possibility that any of your skin care products or over-the-counter creams or topical ointment contains hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a commonly used skin-lightening ingredient to treat skin issues like hyperpigmentation, melasma, age spots, liver spots, and freckles. However, since 90’s, this skin bleaching agent has been under many controversies due to its safety concerns. Hydroquinone can benefit in lightening dark tones but its potential side effects have made people cautious of its frequent use. A research study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology has elucidated the harmful effects of hydroquinone on skin.

How does hydroquinone work on your skin?

It causes a decrease in the number of melanocytes that ultimately leads to lighter skin. However, the skin brightening effects of hydroquinone are reversible when exposed to sunlight. Overproduction of melanocytes is the reason behind pigmentation and hydroquinone only halts its production. So, during this process melanocytes die off, which further gets accumulated on the skin surface just like any other dead skin cells. As a result, the deposition of such skin cells makes the skin look darker. This condition may persist for a couple of weeks depending upon the severity of hyperpigmentation.

Is hydroquinone safe?

Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent that is used to lighten skin tone in skin concerns like melasma, age spots, freckles etc. However, sun exposure while using this ingredient is found to increase the risk of skin sensitivity. This is the reason, use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is emphasized if your skin care products contain hydroquinone. Another drawback is, hyperpigmentation can reverse after discontinuing the use of hydroquinone. A study published in The British Cancer Journal has demonstrated carcinogenic activity of hydroquinone in a mice experiment. The environmental working group has also categorized it as a skin toxicant and allergen. Considering the safety matter, FDA has recommended NTP (National Toxicology Program) to conduct further studies in order to evaluate the health-related effects of hydroquinone. Several ongoing studies on hydroquinone have compelled many companies to look for safer alternatives to hydroquinone.

Few researches have also pointed out the side effects of  kojic acid on skin. It is a skin-lightening agent used in the formulation of skin cosmetics.

Possible side effects after the use of hydroquinone

  • Ochronosis (a persistent blue-black pigmentation)
  • Mild skin irritation
  • Burning sensation
  • Itchy inflammation of the skin (dermatitis)
  • Inflammatory reaction
  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Unusual skin discolorations


After considering the side effects of hydroquinone, many dermatologists and skin experts don’t encourage the use of this topical skin lightening agent. In addition, the below-given contraindications also make Hydroquinone an inappropriate choice to treat dark spots or age spots.

  • The use of Hydroquinone should be avoided in sun and windburn skin. In such conditions, it may worsen the symptoms. Hence, it is advisable to heal the skin before starting any skin brightening treatment.
  • The use of this bleaching agent has not been found good for people who have sensitivity to sulfite. The reason is, Hydroquinone contains sodium metabisulfite, a sulfite that can cause allergic-type reactions including anaphylactic symptoms and asthmatic episodes in certain vulnerable individuals.
  • Pregnant women and lactating mothers should use this skin lightening agent only under the guidance of health care professionals.
  • Avoid its use near eyes, any cuts or abrasions.

Why is this bleaching agent banned?

A few years ago, U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a ban on the use of cosmetics that contain a skin-lightening agent (hydroquinone). As per reports of FDA, there are approximately more than 60 countries who sell 200 different types of skin lightening products. Hydroquinone is forbidden in many countries because of its side effects.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests that over usage of hydroquinone may result in unwanted effects on the skin such as irritation and potential darkening of the skin. Hence, it is strictly suggested to seek a skin expert or dermatologist’s advice for treating dark spots.

Some of the countries where the use of hydroquinone is prohibited

  • S.A
  • European Union
  • Africa
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Asia-Pacific
  • Australia

What are the natural alternatives to hydroquinone?

Till now, there are no clear evidences about the safety status of hydroquinone. However, there are other safer and natural ingredients to deal with skin discolorations, dark spots, and pigmentation. Plant-derived bioactive compounds and antioxidants are very beneficial to even out the skin complexion meanwhile protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays of the sun.

  • Arbutin
  • Pterocarpus marsupium Extract
  • Tetra-hydrocurcumin
  • Niacinamide
  • Vaccinium Myrtillus Fruit/ Leaf Extract
natural alternatives to hydroquinone


1. Arbutin

A research study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology has demonstrated the efficacy of hydroquinone in treating hyperpigmentation. Arbutin is a botanical extract obtained from bearberry. Its natural skin brightening properties help to make your skin clear and flawless. It inhibits the activity of tyrosinase enzyme which induces melanin production. This finally helps to improve the skin tone, facial discolorations, and age spots.

 2. Pterocarpus marsupium Extract

Pterocarpus marsupium is commonly known as Malabar kino, Indian kino tree, or Vijayasar. Since ancient times, this plant has had great medicinal importance in the traditional system of healing. Its antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties make it an effective cure for several ailments including skin problems. It has a natural phytochemical compound pterostilbene that is packed with skin lightening properties. It exhibits strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action with UV protection benefits.




3. Tetra-hydrocurcumin

Tetra-hydrocurcumin is an antioxidant compound derived from curcumin. Anti-pigmentation properties of this bioactive compound have made it now a key ingredient in skin brightening creams. Tetra – hydrocurcumin is an effective and natural alternative to hydroquinone. Its melanin inhibition action has been found more effective in comparison to bleaching agents such as kojic acid and hydroquinone. Apart from lightening the skin complexion, it offers skin protection, improves the collagen levels, and skin elasticity as well.

4. Niacinamide

Niacinamide is also a very good alternative to hydroquinone. A research study published in British Journal of Dermatology has mentioned that topical use of Niacinamide was found quite effective in treating hyperpigmentation and improving skin tone. In addition, it is a powerful antioxidant that helps in skin renewal and regeneration.

5. Vaccinium Myrtillus Fruit/ Leaf Extract

Vaccinium Myrtillus is commonly called Bilberry. It contains higher levels of bioactive compounds such as resveratrol and quercetin, which help to protect the skin from UV damage. Several studies have concluded that the topical application of Bilberry offers skin lightening effects. One can obtain the extraordinary skin benefits of this fruit by incorporating skincare creams containing bilberry extract.

What is hydroquinone and why this bleaching agent is banned

Before buying any product, it is very imperative to check the list of ingredients thoroughly on the labels to know if they are appropriate for your skin. Be precise with your skincare products because healthy, glowing, and radiant skin is only in your hands.


Dermatologists explain that broad-spectrum sunscreen is a crucial part of hyperpigmentation treatment. Unprotected exposure to sun rays trigger melanin production which ultimately worsens your melasma and dark spots on your face. Hence, slathering on  broad-spectrum sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors builds a shield for your skin against UVA and UVB rays.

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