More commonly known as ‘the bleaching cream, hydroquinone, refers to the generic name for skin lightening solutions and is sold under several brand names. Also known as hydroquinol, the cream takes its name for the aromatic compound Quinone. Relied on around the world for providing a fairer and more even skin tone, the bleaching agent is now usually only available through a doctor’s prescription, as the potential side effects can be dangerous if not used in the correct dosage. But the popular bleaching cream has many more potential applications other than just to whiten skin, as well as several oft ignored hazards. Here’s a handy guide to tell you everything you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of using hydroquinone.
The cream can serve as a great cosmetic tool to help users deal with a range of aesthetic issues, including:
- Age spots
- Acne marks
- Dark spots
- Melasma (the development of spots of light brown or grey skin pigmentation)
- Dark skin tone
Hydroquinone can be used in the treatment or concealment of many different aesthetic skin issues with discoloration caused due to pregnancy, usage of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy being one of the key reasons women choose to use it.
several industries rely on the chemical properties of hydroquinone in their production. It can be used to develop an agent for non-colour photographs, lithograph and x-rays, as well as being used for the production of antioxidants in several areas of the food industry.
How does it work?
Your skin complexion is based on the production of melanin. Your skin becomes darker as your body produces more melanin. Melanin is produced in the pigment cells of your skin, otherwise known as melanocytes. While hydroquinone inhibits your skin cells ability to produce melanin pigments, it also decreases the breakdown of your melanin pigment granules called melanosomes by restricting tyronisase, the enzyme that is needed to make melanin. Hydroquinone reduces the amount of melanin created by the skin by inhibiting the activity of this enzyme.
How long does it take to yield results?
Hydroquinone has become the go to for skin lightening creams because it remains a relatively cheap option in comparison to other skin whitening creams while offering quick results. The average response for visible results is 4 weeks, although this can vary from person to person. While users may want to increase the creams impact and response time, it is important to bear certain aspects in mind when considering increasing the frequency of application or the volume of hydroquinone used. Ensure you follow the directions of a medical expert in order to attain the best results; be sure to decrease your dosage after achieving the desired complexion; only use the cream periodically (as advised by a health professional) in order to maintain the complexion; and try to avoid over-exposing your skin to direct UV rays, as this can decrease the efficiency of the cream.
Potential side effects
Although relatively safe when used according to medical advice, there are several potential side effects that could require medical attention should the symptoms worsen.
Common side effects
- During the early stages of application you may experience a mild burning sensation. Although this sensation may subside as the user continues applications, it can persist during the entire application process for certain people, so it is best to consult with a medical professional if you feel any burning sensation.
- Redness and itchiness may arise from continuous use of hydroquinone, as this is a common albeit temporary side effect.
- The user may find they begin to develop dry skin, as this is again a common side effect.
- Although a less common side effect, several users may find their sensitivity to sunlight increases following prolonged applications of hydroquinone. This is another reason to maintain regular applications of sunscreen.
Despite the relatively low risk, hydroquinone does have the potential to cause more severe side effects. If any of these side effects arise following the application of the cream, consult medical advice and discontinue the use of the cream immediately.
Severe side effects
- Allergic reactions like rashes or hives on the skin
- Swollen mouth and lips
- Blisters on the skin
- Blue and black patches on skin
- Difficulty in breathing
- Edema (an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin)
Despite being found safe for human use hydroquinone was found to increase the risks of tumors when tested on rats. Despite no evidence being found that this may signal a potential threat to humans, it is important to take the increased risk into account before using it. Hydroquinone can also lead to exogenous ochronosis, a skin condition whereby the skin becomes thick and dark, with the potential for the skin to develop raised yellow and gray spots.
To avoid these side effects try these precautions first:
- Applying a small patch of cream to unbroken skin before waiting 24 hours. If no side effects occur, the cream will be safe for use.
- It is important that you follow the recommended dosage strictly. If you fail to apply a dose, do not try to double your dosage next time, but instead skip that dose.
- Do not opt for prolonged use of the cream unless recommended by a medical professional.
- Do not apply hydroquinone cream near sensitive areas such as your nose and eyes.
- Ensure you are not allergic to any of the cream ingredients by checking the packaging first.
- Alert your doctor to a pregnancy or potential pregnancy, before using the cream, as well as if you have recently begun breastfeeding.
- Children below 12 years should not use hydroquinone.
- Avoid using any products that containing hydrogen peroxide when using Hydroquinone.
- Anyone suffering from kidney and liver diseases should avoid using hydroquinone altogether.
- Avoid exposure to sunlight.
While a highly effective skin lightener, hydroquinone cream should be used with discretion. Seek medical advice if you are unsure whether using hydroquinone is the best choice for you.