Posted by Sharmani on March 3rd, 2008
Hydroquinone, a skin lightening or skin bleaching agent has been used for 40 or 50 years as an effective ingredient to fight hyperpigmentation (areas of darkened skin), but its use is controversial. Many countries, including most in the European Union, South Africa, Japan and Australia have banned its use for concerns that it’s a possible carcinogen.
The long term use of hydroquinone has been linked (though not conclusively) to:
- Ochronosis – which causes a darkening and thickening of the skin. It can also manifest yellow or gray domed spots, particularly on African skin types, which is why its ban is so important in countries like South Africa where it is smuggled in. Sun avoidance or sunscreen use decreases the likelihood of ochronosis occurring.
- Cancer – the use of hydroquinone is being investigated for its possible link to certain types of cancer, particularly certain blood cancers like Leukemia. However this link has not yet been established in humans.
- Changes in adrenal function (inconclusive).
- High levels of mercury in the body – but that too is also still being investigated.
- Kidney damage.
It’s important to note that most reports of ochronosis have been from Africa after a prolonged period of daily use — sometimes as long as 10 to 40 years — and in high concentrations. The problem has been rare in other countries. As for the cancer risk, studies have been done in mice and rats and so far there have been no links to cancer in humans found – not even with the population in Africa that abuses hydroquinone products.
In the United States, hydroquinone may be sold as a 2% concentration without a doctor’s prescription. In Canada, the maximum concentration allowed is a 4% concentration sold via pharmacies.
Due to safety concerns, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a ban on selling all hydroquinone products without a prescription. This proposal has met with objections from the American Academy of Dermatology who consider hydroquinone to be safe and effective – the gold standard for treating pigmentation disorders.
If hydroquinone is used as directed it is largely a safe and effective product. Here’s how to use hydroquinone safely:
- Use the product under your physician’s guidance.
- As with all new skin care products, perform a skin patch test first.
- If you are allergic to sodium metasodium ensure that the product you are using doesn’t contain this ingredient. Some hydroquinone preparations do.
- The most common side effect is skin irritation including mild itching or stinging and reddening of the skin (irritant contact dermatitis). If these do not subside the cream should be stopped
- Avoid the sun or use sunscreen if you will be exposed to the sun
- Don’t use hydroquinone preparations if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- If no improvement is seen after 4 to 6 months, discontinue the cream. Check with your physician if it is safe to use it for longer periods.
In addition to hydroquinone, other skin lightening agents are available. View the selection of skin lightening products at www.pharmacymix.com
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