About Hydroquinone


Hydroquinone is a skin-bleaching agent often used by people of colour to achieve lighter skin. It’s regarded by experts the world over as the ‘gold standard’ of skin brightening and bleaching. However, it has raised grave concerns in the beauty world, as recent reports point to it being linked to cancer. These claims are heavily contested, but are enough to cause concern.

The devastating effects of bleaching agents in many Asian and African countries where the tendency to bleach skin is popular, are all too evident. Back in the day, many women blindly used these products, without the full understanding of their effects and long-term implications. What made it worse for women in Africa, is the fact that the sun shines a lot brighter and hotter here than in most countries. A lot of these women were not enlightened enough to protect their skin against the harmful UV rays or even read up on the ingredients contained within the products they were using. There are claims that a lot of the products contained harmful ingredients such as mercury, that’s why they cause damage to the extent that they did. Either way, the claims about hydroquinone are hard to ignore.

Prolonged use of hydroquinone leads to skin thinning, and exposing the new, delicate skin to harsh UV rays inevitably leads to skin darkening and thus causing irreversible damage. Often women of colour who have fallen prey to the harsh after effects of hydroquinone have unsightly blue-black patches on their skin. Small wonder hydroquinone is banned in many countries across the world. Since studies revealed that hydroquinone could be linked to skin cancer, many countries will only allow the sale of products containing no more than 2% hydroquinone over the counter, and a maximum of 4% via prescription, and many of these countries are in Africa.

What Does Hydroquinone Do?

Its principal aim is to decrease the formation of melanin, the pigment that gives your skin the brown colour. From a medical standpoint, it’s used to even out skin tone, while people will often use it to acquire lighter skin. Sadly, this is especially the case in countries where beauty is measured by how light your skin is.

Common Side Effects

  • Mild stinging or burning
  • Severe redness
  • Severe cracking and bleeding of skin
  • Skin oozing, blistering
  • Severe dryness
  • Severe inflammation, which in turn can worsen the situation by leading to further darkening of the skin
  • Skin discolouration

It must be noted that this doesn’t always happen, and it won’t happen to every single person who used the product. It’s for this reason, that people are cautioned against use of hydroquinone without their doctor’s supervision. In all the above cases, you are advised to urgently alert your doctor.

If You Must use Hydroquinone

  • Consult a doctor/dermatologist, they’re best placed to guide you on what needs doing
  • Lather on sunscreen and limit exposure to the sun
  • Alternatively consider natural alternatives such as mulberry extract, licorice extract, arbutin, azelaic, L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbic acid and niacimide.

*These won’t give results as fast or as obvious as hydroquinone. But at least you’d be safe in the knowledge that the ingredients are natural and will not cause damage to your skin.

Picture credit: Micha Love


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