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In recent years the question of hydroquinone’s safety has caused it to be banned in certain countries, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has removed hydroquinone’s GRAS status while it considers implementing a ban. However, some industry and non-industry experts point out that this may be an overreaction, based on the following scientific evidence:

  • With a skin absorption rate of about 50% and oral absorption of 100% through food (as demonstrated by in vivo human studies), application of hydroquinone-containing cream is comparable to eating a meal high in arbutin (i.e., coffee and wheat bran).1
  • Although exposure to hydroquinone in rats (primarily through oral ingestion) has demonstrated some carcinogenic effects, in fact there seems to be lower death and cancer rates in humans exposed to hydroquinone in the work environment than to the general population.2
  • Despite years of usage in cosmetic, medical, and industrial capacities, there have been no reports of cancers caused by hydroquinone-exposure in humans.2
  • The only adverse medical effects on humans with typical usage of hydroquinone seem to have been rare cases of exogenous ochronosis, a blue-black pigmentation of cartilage-rich areas (like the ears).1,3

You can find more in-depth information on hydroquinone safety here.

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References:
  1. Levitt, Jacob. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology Volume 57, Issue 5: The safety of hydroquinone: A dermatologist's response to the 2006 Federal Register. MD Consult: American Academy of Dermatology, Inc. [Online] November 2007. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/article/body/179915550-6/jorg=journal&source=MI&sp=20062419&sid=943696401/N/613205/1.html?issn=0190-9622.
  2. DeCaprio, A.P. Crit Rev Toxicol.: The toxicology of hydroquinone—relevance to occupational and environmental exposure. MD Consult: Medline. [Online] May 1, 1999. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/citation/body/179915550-8/jorg=journal&source=MI&sp=10853096&sid=0/N/10853096/1.html?issn=.
  3. Food and Drug Administration. Skin Bleaching Drug Products For Over-the-Counter Human Use; Proposed Rule. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. [Online] August 29, 2006. http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/E6-14263.htm. Federal Register: August 29, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 167) Page 51146-51155.
FDA acronym for “generally regarded as safe.”
 
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