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Hydroquinone is a skin lightening or skin bleaching agent that has been used for about 50 years to effectively treat hyperpigmentation (areas of darkened skin).  

As long as hydroquinone is used as directed it is safe and effective. However, there are some inconclusive studies that suggest it is a possible carcinogen and when used inappropriately, it may cause side effects.  

Used long term (high doses over years and years), its use has been associated with ochronosis. Ochronosis is a skin condition which manifests as dark and thick skin. It can also manifest yellow or gray domed spots, particularly on African skin types, one of the reasons that its use has been banned in countries like South Africa.
It's important to note that most reports of ochronosis have occurred in individuals using high doses over a prolonged period of daily use — sometimes as long as 10 to 40 years. The problem is rare in other countries.  

Hydroquinone is also being investigated for its possible link to certain types of cancer, particularly certain blood cancers like Leukemia. However, this assertion is based on studies 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 who tend to use high concentrations.  

Despite safety concerns (which are inconclusive), the American Academy of Dermatology consider hydroquinone to be safe and effective – the gold standard for treating pigmentation disorders. It’s also important to remember that sun avoidance or sunscreen use decreases the likelihood of ochronosis from occurring.  

If you experience hyperpigmentation disorders, you may want to consider hydroquinone. Here’s how to use it safely and effectively:

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.  

For a range of hydroquinone preparations available, visit [Link Removed] 

Sharmani Pillay is a Registered Pharmacist who specializes in anti aging skin care and wellness solutions in women. She owns and operates an online health and beauty store that offers effective skin care solutions at   and operates a wellness consulting practice at

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