Hydroquinone is the active ingredient used in a variety of over the counter topical skin lightening applications. Purportedly designed to help remove age spots and skin blemishes, hydroquinone is also widely used in cosmetic products targeted specifically at Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern people, who use hydroquinone to help achieve overall lighter skin tones. However, with hydroquinone beauty really does come at a price, especially when one pauses for a moment to consider many common hydroquinone side effects. 

Ranging from minor localized skin irritation, to complaints such as ochronosis, hydroquinone side effects can be both painful and visually unsightly. Even more worrying, studies in the early 2000s demonstrated that hydroquinone side effects might even extend so far as causing certain types of cancers. For this reason, hydroquinone has already been banned in Japan, the European Union and Australia. 

Minor Side Effects Vs More Significant Side Effects  

As then, for the most common side effects associated with hydroquinone, many hydroquinone creams and topical applications are actually very well tolerated by most people. Falling under the classification of ‘irritant contact dermatitis,’ the worst side effects which most people ever experience, include temporary itching, stinging, and reddening of skin after application. However, some users also report much more significant dryness, cracking and mild burning.  

More worryingly on the other hand, some users of dark spot remover creams and lotions that contain hydroquinone report much more dramatic skin irritation symptoms, ones including crusting, burning and swelling of skin. 

Sunburn & Hydroquinone 

Regardless however, of whether people experience side effects after using hydroqinone or not, caution must still be taken in regard to later skin contact with direct sunlight. Hydroquinone works after all, by inhibiting tyrosinase enzymes in the skin, enzymes which the skin needs to be able to produce melanin. Moreover, when melanin production is interrupted, skin becomes much more susceptible to damage from UVA and UVB exposure.

Of course, hydroquinone cream manufactures do state that users should avoid contact with direct sunlight while using such products, however, many users choose to disregard such advice.

Skin Staining & Ochronosis

By far the worst side effects though, are those which involve skin staining and ochronosis. Caused by over accumulations of tyrosinase beneath the skin's surface, ochronosis is most common in people with black skin and darker skin tones, however, ochronosis can and does affect people with lighter skin also.

Occasionally causing significant skin thickening and yellow and gray brown spots on the skin, ochronosis is easily the most visually debilitating of side effects. Even worse though, not only is there currently no known cure for ochronosis, but the condition is known to manifest itself after relatively few applications. 

Dark skin staining brought about via hydroquinone use, is not however, restricted to just ochrionosis. Rather, dark skin patches in hydroquinone users can also be a sign of topical drug interactions between things like hydroquinone and benzoyl peroxide. Moreover, in this case, staining is not permanent and will usually disappear once use of one or both products has been refrained from.
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Side Effects Associated with Using Topical Hydroquinone

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Other Side Effects 

As for other side effects associated with the use of topical hydroquinone, some research suggests that the compound may adversely interfere with people's adrenal glands. Likewise, prolonged use of hydroquinone has been linked with high levels of mercury in users, however, such levels may be attributable to other cream ingredients and not hydroquinone itself. 

In the very least case though, people thinking about using hydroquinone products need to make as informed a choice as possible regarding the possible adverse affects such products might have on their long term health and appearance. A skin lightening cream without Hydroquinone is in our opinion a far better option.



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