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DermNet NZ


Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a skin-bleaching agent that is used to lighten areas of darkened skin such as freckles, chloasma (also known as melasma), age spots, and acne scars.

In New Zealand, hydroquinone is registered as a Pharmacy Only medicine in creams containing hydroquinone in concentrations up to 2%. Some doctors' offices may sell other brands with concentrations up to 4%.

Melasma Melasma
Before and after using hydroquinone for 3 months for melasma

How does hydroquinone work?

Hydroquinone works by decreasing the production and increasing the breakdown of melanosomes (melanin pigment granules) in the skin's pigment cells (melanocytes). It does this by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme needed to make melanin.

How effective is hydroquinone?

In most cases, lightening of skin should be seen after 4 weeks of treatment. Sometimes it may take longer to see any change but if no bleaching effect is seen after 3 months of treatment, you should stop using hydroquinone.

To increase the effectiveness of hydroquinone you should stay out of the sun, or wear protective clothing and use a SPF15+ sunscreen when outdoors. Do not use sunlamps or tanning salons.

It is important to use hydroquinone regularly as directed until you achieve the desired bleaching, after which use only as needed to maintain results.

How to use hydroquinone

Side effects

Hydroquinone cream is very well tolerated. Some women may experience minor and temporary skin irritations including mild itching or stinging and reddening of the skin (irritant contact dermatitis). If these do not subside stop using the cream.

Side effects that should warrant stopping the cream and seeking medical advice immediately include severe burning, itching, crusting, or swelling of treated areas (possible allergic contact dermatitis) and any unusual skin discolouration.

Prolonged use of hydroquinone has been associated with the development of exogenous ochronosis (a persistent blue-black pigmentation), especially in Africa, but this is rare. It might be due to other ingredients such as phenol, resorcinol and antimalarial agents, which are known to cause ochronosis.

Precautions

Do not use benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or other peroxide products when using hydroquinone. A temporary dark staining of the skin may occur. If accidentally used together, wash the skin with soap and water to remove the staining.

Hydroquinone creams may contain sodium metabisulphite that may cause serious allergic reactions (including anaphylaxis) in certain susceptible people.

Hydroquinone should not be used in pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

Related information

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Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer

Note:

The New Zealand approved datasheet is the official source of information for this prescription medicine, including approved uses and risk information. Check the New Zealand datasheet on the Medsafe website.

DermNet NZ does not provide an on-line consultation service.
If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.