An ingredient previously banned from skin lightening cosmetic creams due to its damaging effects on the skin has now been found to cause cancer, claims a review published by Dr W Westerhof and T Kooyers , two of Europe's leading authorities on pigmentation in dermatology.
Hydroquinone was banned from use within cosmetics in January 2001 due to its well documented topical effects on skin, however new research has shown that it also may have more worrying long term effects and the review expresses concern that hydroquinone is still ending up on the UK market via two routes.
Firstly a significant amount of hydroquinone creams are still imported from countries where it is yet to be banned, and a strong black market trade exists in the UK.
Secondly and more concerning is the news that companies can still sell products containing arbutin and bearberry legally. Arbutin is the glycoside of hydroquinone, and bearberry is a natural source of arbutin. Once in the skin arbutin releases hydroquinone, so many people are still coming into contact with this molecule.
The ingredient hydroquinone has been used for decades as a skin lightening agent and for the treatment of hyper-pigmentation following skin conditions such as acne, liver spots, burns and post-pregnancy masks. Dr Westerhofs review documents its ability to cause blood cancers, for example leukaemia, and kidney damage in animal studies. When applied to the skin it is quickly absorbed into the blood stream and excreted slowly via the kidneys, suggesting that hydroquinone accumulates in the body. It is broken down in the bone marrow and this is where long-term damage may start.
Theo Kooyers states that it is worrying to think that people are unaware that they are still coming into contact with hydroquinone and also they are not aware of the extreme, long-term side effects that this ingredient can cause. The EEC is yet to deliver its verdict on substitute sources of hydroquinone but it is important to get the message out there that "safer alternatives are available."
Since the banning of hydroquinone, General Topics a major research based dermacosmetic company, led by Dr Gianfranco de Paoli Ambrosi , has investigated alternatives and has tested and developed a product called Thiospot that is just as effective as hydroquinone but without the risks. Thiospot is made up of natural ingredients that build up in the skin over a number of weeks, safely slowing down excess pigment production so lighter skin cells migrating to the skin surface.