Is Hydroquinone Safe?

I get a lot of questions about hydroquinone (HQ). If you aren’t familiar, this is a skin-lightening ingredient that has been a mainstay for treating hyperpigmentation and brown spots for years. It’s applied twice a day and must be used in conjunction with daily SPF to provide continued results. It is banned in most European markets due to studies showing that rats which were fed hydroquinone had a higher rate of certain cancers. Um, yikes? No studies have linked cancer to the topical application of hydroquinone, but as you might expect, people often feel uneasy with the possible link. The FDA has not made a move to ban hydroquinone. It is available in OTC (2% maximum) and prescription (4%) formulations. The American Academy of Dermatology stands behind the safety of HQ, but stresses the importance of using it as directed, which is twice daily for a maximum of six months.

I present the above information to my patients to help them make the decision that’s best for them. There are a lot of non-hydroquinone lightening ingredients coming out now, and some are really promising. Kojic acid, azaelic acid, arbutin, licorice root extract, niacinamide, retinol…the list goes on and on. Combinations of the above ingredients (and others) are hoping to break through as the “answer” to HQ. You can find my review of one such product by Shiseido, here. I’m working on another review on Lytera, by SkinMedica. Let me just say that the miracle solution hasn’t really been found yet. I have my fingers tightly crossed on this one.

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