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Is Hydroquinone Safe? Hydroquinone Dangers Explained

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I’m quite sure we’ve all had that feeling before. The kind where your face feels as though it has a mask on and your pores can’t breathe.  Perhaps after a long night out on the town or after a long day’s work?

This is the oily, gritty, nasty sensation that drives us to wash our faces two times a day. This is what fuels the beauty industry, which makes up a surprisingly large portion of the global economy.

Yes, skin care has come a long way since the days of using charcoal, sea salt and honey to keep our skin clean and hydrated. In modern times we’ve developed a series of chemically enhanced cleansing products that claim to be highly effective. But effective at what exactly?

The truth is that most beauty companies spend most of their money on marketing. They do this instead of finding ways to develop or innovate new and healthy alternatives to commercial chemical laden products.

Because we’ve become so used to living an on-demand, consumer lifestyle, we tend to overlook the dangers that come with most of the ingredients that are contained in these products.

In fact, doing a simple Google search into almost any of the ingredients contained in most of the personal care products will reveal a series of highly hazardous ingredients. These can be harmful when used in high concentrations or consistently over a long period of time.

I’ve written about a lot of these chemicals throughout the times, and today’s topic is a chemical known as hydroquinone.

You may have never heard of this before, or perhaps you are simply unaware of its harmful effects. So take a moment to find out what it is, and why you may want to avoid it. We will identify some of the products that may contain this chemical as an active ingredient, so you know how to best avoid it.

The best way to achieve a healthy and radiant complexion is through natural means. The first step of doing this is by removing as many of the harmful chemicals that accelerate aging as you can. Relying on them won’t get you anything other than dry, irritated skin and possibly wrinkled skin.

What Is Hydroquinone?

Chemical composition of hydroquinone.

The Chemical Composition of Hydroquinone.

If a healthy and natural approach to skincare is the ‘Batman’ of anti-aging treatments and achieving a healthy complexion, then hydroquinone is the ‘Harley Quinn’ of active chemical ingredients – so to speak. Basically, hydroquinone is used as an artificial skin lightener or brightening product. It works by reducing the amount of melanin that your skin produces.

Melanin are the pigments that give our skin its color and tone. It is the result of the oxidation of tyrosine amino acids in our body. After the amino acids have been converted, they form a specialized group of cells known as melanocytes. This ultimately forms the basis for our skin color.

So how do you reduce the amount of melanin that your skin produces? You limit the amount of melanocytes that occur in your skin. Doing this will start to lighten your skin gradually over time, especially if you stay out of the sun.

Hydroquinone is generally used to reduce hyperpigmentation and other skin issues such as acne marks, sun spots and melasma. Melasma is a form of skin discoloration that occurs during and after pregnancy. You can find hydroquinone in many facial creams, toners and other beauty products.

There are those in the health and beauty sector that argue it is safe to use in small and controlled doses. However, a large amount of people in the industry are starting to point to new scientific evidence that suggests it really isn’t safe, even in small doses.

Which Products Is Hydroquinone Found In?

Heart shape drawn in sunscreen.

Many skin care products can look rather innocent but are actually very dangerous.

Hydroquinone is usually found in bleaching creams, skin lighteners, pigment gels, spot treatments or in certain anti-aging products. The chemical is generally added to work as a primary ingredient in the function of lightening one’s skin.

Due to the high volatility of the chemical, it is generally only added in small amounts. For this reason, It can take up to 3 months to notice results.

Strangely enough, the chemical isn’t only reserved for skin related products. It can often also be found in hair conditioners and finger nail coating products as a light bleaching agent. It can also be labelled as tocopheryl acetate – so scan the back of the ingredients list for both.

Companies Which Utilize Hydroquinone In Their Products

A general overview may help to create a map of which products you may want to avoid. However having a list of companies that are actively including the chemical in their products will help you know where to start.

The general rule of thumb is that anything related to pigment creams/lotions, lightening or brightening agents, spot treatments and bleaching creams likely contains hydroquinone.

This is just a short list of the top few to look out for. But you should always scan the ingredients list of any skincare or beauty products that you’re interested in buying. Many more products out there contain hydroquinone aside from the ones I listed.

  • Murad Rapid Age Spot And Pigment Lightening Serum.
  • PCA Skin Pigment Gel.
  • Resist Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 2% BHA Gel.
  • Clinician’s Complex 6% Skin Bleaching Cream.
  • Dermatologic Cosmetic Laboratories AHA Lightening Gel.
  • Reviva Brown Spot Night Gel With Glycol Acid.
  • Porcelain Skin Lightening Day Cream.
  • NeoStrata HQ Skin Lightening Gel.
  • Vivant Skincare Bleaching Serum Forte.

I hope this gives you an idea of just some of the popular products you may find on the shelves of your local supermarket or department store. As I said before, there are a lot more out there, so I’d recommend making a list of your own to stick to when shopping for skin care products.

The Dangers Of Using Products Which Contain Hydroquinone Explained

Blue bottle of poison.

Hydroquinone can be extremely dangerous for your health and beauty.

In the section defining hydroquinone, I mentioned briefly that the beauty world is somewhat divided about the harmful nature of this chemical. Right now, I plan to elaborate on why hydroquinone is dangerous.

In truth, beauty brands will always try to prove that their products are safe, whether they really are or not. This is because they are trying to make money  – that’s the bottom line. Unfortunately, your health and the quality of your skin is very often a secondary issue

The main argument against hydroquinone is that it’s a cytotoxic and mutagenic substance. This means that it is both toxic to cells and can also cause harmful cell mutations. Another serious issue hydroquinone can cause is the formation of exogenous ochronosis. This is a form of dermatitis that results in bluish-black or brown-grey hyperpigmentation on the surface of the skin. This is ironic as most of the products that contain hydroquinone are designed to help treat and alleviate the symptoms of hyper-pigmentation – not cause it.

Besides this, hydroquinone has been linked to the development of increased exposure to UVA and UVB radiation. This increases your skin’s sensitivity to direct sunlight. It can also result in the formation of hyper-pigmentation, sun spots or burns and in more serious cases – cancer. The chemical has also been listed as a carcinogen and can lead to cancer both on the surface of the skin and internally over time.

Many may think that hydroquinone is a quick fix towards achieving a lighter skin tone or for treating sun spots and hyperpigmentation. But the truth is that it could lead to exactly these kinds of problems. This is why, in my opinion – it’s best to leave it out of your skin care routine. But if you do still decide to use it, please remember the risks and to use with absolute caution.

How To Avoid Products Which Contain Hydroquinone

Two small bottles of oil with flowers in background.

Try skin brightening essential oils as an alternative.

The best way to avoid any chemical ingredient is to be mindful of which products contain it. This is best done through a combination of research (good old Google) and by simply reading the ingredients list of the products you wish to use.

In general, I would stay away from most chemically produced skin lighteners, brighteners, spot treatments and bleaching products. These are most likely to contain hydroquinone and many other potentially harmful chemicals.

As an alternative, one should always look to nature as it can provide a healthier alternative to many of the products we use today. For instance, switching to essential oils that are rich in vitamin C (such as lemon oil, orange oil, neroli oil, lemongrass or lemon balm oil to name a few). These can have similar lightening effects on the skin without the risk of damaging your skin as severely. They will also actively help to strengthen your skin cells in the process.

You can use Vitamin B3 and licorice extract to naturally lighten your skin. You can also use them in combination with the above mentioned essential oils for even better results.

No matter which skin lightening method you choose, it’s important that you try and reduce your exposure to direct sunlight. This is because UV rays tend to cause most of the damage I discussed earlier – it’s a dangerous catalyst for harmful chemicals.


Ultimately, I would always recommend choosing a natural option over a chemically synthesized product. In doing so, you will promote naturally healthy skin and ultimately a healthier body overall.

Yes, natural options may not be as ‘fast-acting’ as chemically synthesized products. They may even require a little more research and DIY effort in order to achieve similar results. But the truth is that they’re a lot safer and a lot cheaper, so they should always be the first option on your list. You should only use conventional products as a last resort.

It is advisable speak to a doctor or dermatologist before using a new skin care product. You should also never use essential oils while pregnant or on children under the age of 8. I would also like to add that you should always patch test an essential oil on your skin in small amounts in order to test for skin irritations and rashes.

So, in short, it’s better to avoid products that contain hydroquinone. This is simply because the risk of using them is too high and could result in worsening your skin condition rather than improving it. I’d also like to add that products containing hydroquinone are bound to contain other toxic chemical ingredients too.

So put that lightening cream down and go to your nearest health food store or ‘green-friendly’ outlet and get some essential oils instead – you’ll thank me later.