October 16, 2021 What Are Possible Side Effects Of Hydroquinone For Your Skin?
As you look at skincare options to address hyperpigmentation and melasma, you may be wondering if hydroquinone has any side effects. Continue reading to learn more about the risks and side effects associated with hydroquinone.
What are the most common side effects of hydroquinone treatments?
Although hydroquinone is considered the “gold standard” in treating conditions like melasma and hyperpigmentation, there are some side effects, including:
- Dry skin
- Allergic contact dermatitis, or allergic reaction to hydroquinone
Side effects of hydroquinone are typically mild to moderate. Many formulas include steroids and retinoids to help boost efficacy and reduce the likelihood of skin irritation. Your doctor may conduct a patch test on your skin to check for allergies before starting you on treatments.
It’s also not uncommon for treatments to begin at a lower dose for the first week to allow your skin to adjust to hydroquinone treatments. After the first week, you may be advised to increase the frequency of applications.
It’s also important to note that hydroquinone causes skin to be much more sensitive to ultraviolet light. You should be certain to take precautions to protect affected areas from sunlight, including using sunscreens and wearing protective clothing, such as broad-brimmed hats or long sleeves.
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Hydroquinone and ochronosis
Hydroquinone is not totally free from scrutiny despite being considered a safe and effective treatment worldwide. This is evident as recently as September 2020, when over-the-counter hydroquinone formulas with concentrations of 2% or less were pulled from shelves over concerns of misuse.
One of these concerns is a rare condition called ochronotic, which results in a blue-black pigmentation of the skin. Ochronosis occurs typically after prolonged use of hydroquinone on large patches of the skin (Faridi). Although hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent, it is intended for use on dark spots only – NOT as an overall skin bleaching treatment. Once ochronosis occurs, it is very difficult to treat.
Some other misconceptions about hydroquinone exist despite a lack of evidence. For example, hydroquinone has been cited as hazardous because it is produced from benzene, a known carcinogen. However, studies over the 60 year period hydroquinone has been commonly prescribed do not indicate any dangers of toxicity in the topical use of hydroquinone (Grimes).
Another concern stemming from internet rumors claims that hydroquinone actually causes melasma, rather than improving or curing it. However, no credible studies indicate that hydroquinone causes melasma.
- Faridi W, Dhamoon AS. Ochronosis. [Updated 2021 Aug 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560534/
- Grimes PE, Ijaz S, Nashawati R, Kwak D. New oral and topical approaches for the treatment of melasma. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;5(1):30-36. Published 2018 Nov 20. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.09.004
- Schwartz C, Jan A, Zito PM. Hydroquinone. [Updated 2021 May 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539693/
About the author
Brandon Kirsch, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in clinical drug development and medical innovation. He is the founder of Kirsch Dermatology in Naples, Florida and is also the Chief of Dermatology at the ...