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Hydroquinone — toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Saturday, December 02, 2017 by

Hydroquinone is a toxic chemical compound found in skin lightening creams and lotions. It is a topical ointment for decreasing formation of melanin in the skin, and is used on freckles, age spots, melasma (sun damage) and cholasma (hormonal darkening of the skin). Hydroquinone-based creams cannot be used by individuals who have kidney disease, asthma, sulfite/ peroxide allergy, or are currently using antibiotics. Using hydroquinone makes you more susceptible to sunburn and more sensitive to extreme weather conditions. This compound generates free radicals that further damage melanosomes and may alter or damage DNA.

Other registered uses for hydroquinone, including rate of use are the following: developing agent for black and white photography, lithography and x-ray films (46 percent); factor in producing antioxidants for rubber (31 percent) and food (four percent); and addition to industrial monomers to prevent polymerization during shipping, storage, and processing (11 percent).

Other names for hydroquinone include benzen-1,4-diol; CAS 123-31-9; InChI=1S/C6H6O2/c7-5-1-2-6(8)4-3-5/h1-4,7-8H; 4-hydroxyphenol; para-Dihydroxybenzene; 1,4-benzenediol; 1-hydroxy-4-oxocyclohexa-2,5-dien-1-yl; and dihydroquinone.

List of known side effects

Hydroquinone has acute toxicity via dermal, oral, ingestion or inhalation routes of exposure. It may cause severe skin redness, burning or stinging sensation, dryness of the skin, cracking, bleeding, blisters, oozing and blue or black discoloration of the epidermis. It may also cause photosensitivity and may be carcinogenic.

Severe hydroquinone poisoning may cause ringing of the ears, nausea, seizures, cyanosis (bluish skin), and liver damage.

Skin staining may occur when used with peroxide products, alcohol-based beauty products, astringents and other acidic chemicals. Since hydroquinone generates free radicals, it damages melanosomes and may impair DNA. It is also known to increased the development of leukemia in rodents. Dermal application in mice tests show increased skin tumor incidence.

One study shows application on skin may cause ochronosis, or abnormal pigmentation of the nails. 62-year old identical twins used a compounded cream with 10 percent of hydroquinone over a two-month period to treat facial dyschromia. On the third month of use, they both developed chestnut-brown pigmentation in their nails. Discontinuing the product showed recession of the discoloration.

It is also an environmental hazard and must not be released into the environment. The oral lethal dose for hydroquinone in humans is 50 to 500 milligrams per kilogram, or one teaspoon and one ounce for a 150-pound person. Death may occur due to respiratory failure or anoxia.

Body systems affected by hydroquinone

The skin is the most affected body part because hydroquinone is available as a lotion, cream, or other external application medium. Severe poisoning may result in liver damage and genetic disorders.

Items that may contain hydroquinone

Skin products that have hydroquinone are the following: P&G Skin Discoloration Fade Cream; Physicians Complex 6% Skin Bleaching Cream; Black and White Bleaching Cream with Hydroquinone; Reviva Spot Night Cream; and Nadinola Brown Skin Discoloration Fade Cream for Oily Skin.

How to avoid hydroquinone

Make sure to read the label of a beauty product prior to buying or using. Hydroquinone may be listed as a different name as listed earlier in the article. If allergic skin reactions occur due to skin application of products with hydroquinone, wash off the affected area with soap and water. If symptoms persist, contact medical services as soon as possible.

For cases of inhalation and ingestion, transport the victim to the nearest emergency department.

Where to learn more


Hydroquinone is a toxic chemical used in various beauty products.

Hydroquinone is used to lighten dark areas on the skin.

Hydroquinone may cause many different skin reactions.

Hydroquinone is carcinogenic to rodents.

Hydroquinone may cause fatality when ingested.

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