Medical Day Spa

Is Hydroquinone Safe and Effective?

Hydroquinone is a topical skin-lightening ingredient commonly used in skin care products.

It is best known for its ability to lighten and reduce the appearance of brown spots and improve overall skin tone. Hydroquinone is a naturally derived antioxidant that can be found in a wide variety of plants and foods such as berries, wheat and grains, beans, tea, coffee, red wine, broccoli, and onions.

How does hydroquinone work?

Color-producing cells within the skin can sometimes produce excess color. The escess color production causes brown spots to form on the surface of the skin. Hydroquinone works by inhibiting these color-producing cells and helping to lighten the brown spots.

How does the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classify hydroquinone?

The FDA currently classifies hydroquinone as a skin-lightening ingredient used to lighten areas of darkened or discolored skin.

Is hydroquinone considered an effective ingredient to treat skin discoloration?

Hydroquinone has been used as a treatment for skin discoloration problems in the United States since the 1950’s. Since then, millions of patients have been using products containing hydroquinone. A prescription from a physician is required for 4% hydroquinone in the US; however, lower concentrations, such as 2% or less, are available over the counter.

Is hydroquinone safe to use?

Hydroquinone has long been regarded as the gold-standard for treating skin discoloration, and has been used in skin care products for more than 50 years. It is well documented in numerous clinical studies that 4% hydroquinone is safe and effective when used properly under a physician’s care. Nationally renowned physicians and healthcare institutions are actively prescribing and using hydroquinone to treat skin discolorations. Howard Maibach, MD, Professor of Dermatology at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco writes, “Overall, adverse events reported with the use of hydroquinone have been relatively few and minor in nature. Hydroquinone is undoubtedly the most active and safest skin-depigmenting substance.” Susan Taylor, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University writes, “Hydroquinone is the gold standard for treating pigmentation disorders and has been for many years. I consider it to be very safe and effective.”

Are there any side effects associated with using hydroquinone?
All medicine may cause side effects. The common side effects may include transient skin irritation, dryness, minor redness, or a mild burning sensation. Rare and more severe allergic reactions may occur and are most often due to formula exceptions.

What precautions should I take while using hydroquinone?

As with any prescription, it is important to follow all the directions on the product package and use only as directed by a physician. Test a small area of the skin to check for any immediate side effects.

Do not use hydroquinone at the same time as other skin-lightening products. Always use sunscreen after applying hydroquinone to the skin. Discard any hydroquinone-containing product that turns brown. This means the hydroquinone has become oxidize and is no longer active. If you experience any severe side effects, contact your physician immediately.


  1. Hydroquinone is in the Obagi skincare products I have been using for the past year. It has effectively removed the areas of hyperpigmentation on my face and has my skin tone and texture are greatly improved at age 54.

  2. I was afraid to try Hydroquinone due to all the negative feedback I have read on the internet. However, it is very interested to know that Hydroquinone can be found in natural foods.

    Thank you Medical Day Spa! for the detailed information on Hydroquinone. I am 36 years old, Hispanic ethnicity and suffered from moderate Acne during my younger years as well as discoloration of my skin during my first pregnancy. I will give Hydroquinone a try in an effort to diminish my Acne scars and hyper pigmentation.

    1. Thanks Dora! I am glad you found the information helpful.

  3. I have been using the NuDerm system for over a year and noticed great results after only 8 weeks!

  4. Hydroquinone is the most effective skin application agent to treat hyperpigmentation, most often caused by sun exposure. The FDA states that it is safe to use as an OTC product. At Medical Day Spa of Chapel Hill, hydroquinone is available in several concentrations and is an important component of a medical grade skin treatment program monitored by aesthetic nurses and physicians.

  5. I have been using the Obagi NuDerm system and can say the hydroquinone has done its job!