Hydroquinone is one of the most toxic chemicals still used in skin care and other products today. Its primary purpose is to lighten the skin. It does this by inhibiting the production of melanin, the pigment which colors our skin.
It is frequently used as a skin lightener in the African American community. It is also increasingly prescribed for use by dermatologists by women of all colors for discolorations in their skin such as melasma, age spots and liver spots. There are many consumer advocates who are stunned that the toxic chemical is even still being used in products for human consumption.
To give you an idea of how toxic the chemical is, it achieved one of the highest toxic ratings on EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Skin Deep Database. It scored 9 out of 10 points, 10 being the highest and most toxic score for a cosmetic or personal care ingredient.
Why hydroquinone is toxic and a natural skin lightening alternative should be pursued
Immune toxicity concerns
There is evidence that the chemical itself is toxic to the immune system and may harm the cells that protect our bodies against invaders and disease. Any chemical that is suspected to suppress the immune system or destroy vital parts of our elaborate immune system should be avoided all together, no matter how effective it might be at correcting a cosmetic problem.
Reproductive and endocrine toxicity
Like so many other chemicals used commonly in personal care and cosmetic products, there are concerns over toxicity to the reproductive system as well as the endocrine system. These are closely tied as you likely know, since hormones are closely related to how our reproductive system works. Hydroquinone has been a concern on both fronts as it has shown endocrine disruption capabilities.
Hydroquinone itself has been identified as a carcinogen, or cancer causing agent. This is likely due to its effect on multiple human systems. However, there is another reason for this as well. It is linked to skin cancer due to an indirect effect.
Hydroquinone works by suppressing tyrosinase, which acts with melanin in synchronicity to darken the skin. This is the body’s natural reaction to UV exposure.
This reaction can be influenced by hormones, and so women who are on the birth control pill often experience darker spots and have issues with melasma, which is a darkening of larger areas of skin and uneven skin tone, or blotchiness due to hyperpigmentation.
Because it works by suppressing melanin’s actions, the UV light that comes in contact with the skin can actually penetrate deeper. This means that you are more likely to have toxic, cancer causing effects from the sunlight you come into contact with while being treated with hydroquinone. So in this way it has an impact on your body’s own ability to minimize UV damage to your skin – the very thing you are trying to reverse by using it.
Alternatives to hydroquinone
Right now the best (at least known) alternative to hydroquinone as a skin lightening agent is kojic acid. This is a natural by-product of mushrooms. The problem with it is that it is actually unstable in skin care formulations and losing its efficacy quickly. We may talk further about kojic acid and other natural skin lightening alternatives in future posts as we learn more about new alternatives on the market.
Two ingredients that are in our new soon to be released face cream are also known to help lighten dark spots and even out skin tone. Those are MSM and vitamin C esther. Both of these have shown great promise in helping blend the skin tone and prevent or lighten discolorations. And neither of them are toxic at all – they are all-natural.