For many years, hydroquinone skin bleaching cream has been the staple method for lightening skin blemishes, discolorations, or dark patches. It is available in the United States in both over the counter and prescription strength formulations. Hydroquinone skin bleaching cream is also available in many underdeveloped or third world countries. However, the European Union banned hydroquinone skin bleaching cream and similar cosmetic products containing hydroquinone in 2001. Hydroquinone skin bleaching cream has been linked to leukemia as well as other types of cancer in animals studies conducted in laboratory settings.
Many of the hydroquinone skin bleaching cream products on the market today also contain other active ingredients such as tretinoin, glycerin, and even mercury iodine. Mercury has long been known to be a carcinogenic. Because of this, many argue that the cancer cases linked to hydroquinone skin bleaching cream products were the result of these other active ingredients. However, there have been numerous studies of hydroquinone skin bleaching cream that did not include other active ingredients, and these products were also linked to cancer in lab animals. As such, many skin bleaching products in countries like the UK specifically advertise themselves as “hydroquinone free.”
In spite of the known links between cancer and hydroquinone skin bleaching cream, the topical remedy is still available as an over the counter drug in the United States. While hydroquinone skin bleaching cream is available without prescription, it must have a concentration of less than 2%. Unfortunately, there are prescription remedies that have as high as a 4% concentration. These , however, are intended only for spot treatments on small areas. It is because these hydroquinone skin bleaching cream products are only prescribed for small areas that they are still sold in the United States.
In many cultures, hydroquinone skin bleaching cream products were used to lighten the entire complexion. This all-over body treatment exposed individuals to much more hydroquinone than intended, leading to legislation where these products were banned. While there is surely misuse of hydroquinone skin bleaching cream in countries like the U.S. where it is still legal, the culture of lightening a person’s entire complexion is not as strong as in other countries. Therefore, with less abuse or misuse of hydroquinone skin bleaching cream, there is not as strong a push to ban these products. If there were as strong an inclination in the U.S. for certain cultures to lighten their complexion, ill results and increases in cancer rates would surely prompt a ban.