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Hydroquinone: Is the Cure Worse Than the Problem?

By: Diana L. Howard, PhD
Posted: April 30, 2009, from the May 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 4 of 4

Dealing with issues of pigmentation will undoubtedly continue to be a focus in the skin care arena, and there is certainly no shortage of products designed to address these issues. But the most important question is: Which are effective and safe to use? Although hydroquinone continues to be the only authorized OTC whitening agent in the U.S., there are numerous studies that question its safety, which accounts for its being banned in most countries throughout the world. The pressure remains on pharmaceutical houses, cosmetic companies and raw material suppliers to find safe and legal alternatives to hydroquinone. This past decade has seen a myriad of new brightening agents, all promising to reduce hyperpigmentation while enhancing skin luminosity and, although most have fallen short of hydroquinone’s ability to whiten skin, new cocktails of brighteners are now available that are close in performance and a lot safer to use.


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  3. DCI 54 (Feb 1997)
  4. R Goldemberg, “The Compounders Corner.” DCI 10 (Jan 1996)
  5. J Am College Toxicology 13(3) 167–230

Diana l. Howard, PHD is vice president of technical development for The International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica. She earned her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she specialized in plant biochemistry, and has applied her research on skin and the development of novel ingredient complexes in work for major cosmetic companies for more than 24 years.

Arbutin Avoids the Damaging Effects of Hydroquinone

Arbutin may be considered as a ‘pro-hydroquinone’ that avoids the damaging effects of hydroquinone but keeps the efficacy as an antiseptic and a melanogenesis inhibitor by inhibiting competitively tyrosinase [Maeda]. The material is useful not only for cultural skin whitening but also for the skin fairing of freckles and liver spots (age spots). This is a sample of what you will find in Formulating Natural Cosmetics: An Encyclopedia of Ingredients by Anthony C. Dweck.

Take a Look at the Rave Reviews Alluredbooks-An Encyclopedia of Natural Ingredients