Dermatologic Disease Awareness and Teledermatology


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The Unethical Purchases of Hydroquinone Online

We have been talking a lot recently in these blogs about hydroquinone. Just to reiterate, hydroquinone is a compound that when used as a topical agent, lightens skin. Worldwide, hydroquinone is still the most commonly used bleaching agent. In 2006, the FDA revoked its approval of hydroquinone and proposed a ban on all over-the-counter hydroquinone. They stated that hydroquinone cannot be ruled out as a potential carcinogen.[1] Many countries in Europe including France have a ban on hydroquinone for not only its known side effects but for its possible carcinogenic properties. Now, in the United States, topical treatments for skin lightening can contain up to 2% hydroquinone. Otherwise, higher concentrations of up to 4% should be prescribed and used with caution.[2]

But many women don’t want to or can’t get the prescription from their doctor. Many times because the reason they want hydroquinone is to lighten their skin to meet beauty standards. Many women of color feel they need to lighten their skin to be beautiful, to look attractive, or to find a partner because that’s what many of these companies advertise. This makes woman go to extreme lengths to lighten their skin. Many women start with small amount with hydroquinone but eventually want to move on to higher concentrations. So, when products with just 2% hydroquinone isn’t enough then users look for products with higher concentrations.

So where do you go to buy hydroquinone? Where most go to buy any rare or unfound product: the Internet. Now that the internet has millions of different online shops to find almost anything you need, that means you can also find things that may be illegal in your country. By just searching hydroquinone 4% you can find many online forums of women asking where to buy this product online and many women answering their questions. Some of the headlines on these websites read, “the number one resource to treat dark spots and get beautiful skin you deserve,” and “you too can get clear, bright, clean and wonderful skin.”[3]

These purchases are unethical because they are not only illegal, but also they are dangerous. When you get a prescription of hydroquinone 4% from your dermatologist, you are told how much to put on, how to put it on, when to stop, what side effects to look for, and you have someone to call if anything abnormal occurs. But when you purchase from the internet all you are getting is “bright and clear skin”. You are unable to get a doctor's advice and knowledge on the product, which can be very dangerous. Just some of the side effects include severe skin redness, burning, or stinging; severe skin dryness, cracking, or bleeding; blisters or oozing; or blue or black discoloration of the skin especially if you are Hispanic or African-American.[4] There is also studies that show that hydroquinone may be a carcinogen and may cause liver damage.



[1] United States Food and Drug Administration (2006). Skin Bleaching Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Product Use; Proposed Rule (PDF) (Report). 1978N-0065.

[2] Draelos, Zoe Diana. "Skin Lightening Preparations and the Hydroquinone Controversy." Dermatologic Therapy 20.5 (2007): 308-13


[4] Draelos, Zoe Diana. "Skin Lightening Preparations and the Hydroquinone Controversy." Dermatologic Therapy 20.5 (2007): 308-13