Updated Version -A Letter to All Women of African Descent: 10 Reasons Why Hydroquinone is Bad For Your Skin!

This piece was originally posted on January 3, 2013. Due to popular demand and based on the increasing cases of women (and men), whose skin have been damaged by the skin bleaching agent ‘Hydroquinone’, we decided to repost it again.

It is rare to attend an event these days without seeing first hand the damages that the hydroquinone bleaching agent causes (and continue to cause).

The clues are pretty easy to spot: very dark knuckles, knees, elbows, ankles and toes, unsightly varicose parchment of veins, different shades of skin tone, dark burn-like marks on faces, especially along the cheekbones and around the contours of the eyes…

Hydroquinone imageIt is particularly disheartening when you notice these signs on the bodies of  seeming beautiful, successful and sophisticated women, who obviously spend a fortune on clothes, hair, makeup and accessories (pieces of jewelry, bags, sunglasses) etc.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and people tend to forget that it is a living, breathing organ so whatever you apply on your skin will invariably get into your bloodstream and/or organs!

Thus, the focus of this post is not about whether you should stop bleaching or not, (that it is your choice, and entirely up to each individual). However,  the highlight is on using HEALTHY skin products and to encourage people to take the time to research into the ingredients in their skincare products. In particular, this is a post about the harmful effects of Hydroquinone on black skin.

“Take good care of your skin, for it houses your body, and your body is the only true home you’ll ever reside in. For as long as you are alive, it is the home that you can never run away from.”
-Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido,
Co-Founder, Whole Woman Network

An important, heartfelt letter to all women of African Descent:

Dear sisters,

Please! Please! Please! Learn to love the beautiful skin you’re in; dark, brown, light and all the shades in between. Just own it. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to look your radiant best, however, it is imperative to use healthy and sustainable products or methods to achieve your beauty goals.

There is a big difference between seeking a glowing, healthy and even-toned skin and an unhealthy fixation on becoming light-skinned by using harmful skin products or chemicals. The former comes from a place of ‘wholeness’ while the latter often stems from a deep-seated sense of  ‘insecurity’ and ‘unworthiness’.

Some of the general (fallacious) perceptions that a ‘light-skinned’ woman is more beautiful or attractive than a ‘dark-skinned’ woman are often steeped in a pre-conditioned narrative propagated to young girls from a very early age. I remember growing up and hearing songs in my native dialect in Nigeria which loosely translates to: “Light-skinned girl, a light-skinned girl is who I want to love/marry…” or a common expression for beauty: “She’s beautiful and fair like a white woman.”

There was a recent study done at the University of Cape town that suggests one-third of South African women bleach their skin. Unconfirmed reports from the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), also suggests that 77% of Nigerian women bleach their skin! There are similar stories in Ghana, Liberia, and Senegal etc. All across Africa and even Asia, the habit of skin bleaching is sadly becoming more and more prevalent.

Look around you and the signs are everywhere. You probably know a friend, aunty, sister, neighbour or colleague who is fixated on skin bleaching.

For women of African descent, the scourge of skin bleaching is made worse because most women (and even men), use creams made with the potent bleaching agent: Hydroquinone.

Some important facts about Hydroquinone:

  1. Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, which is important in skin pigment (melanin) development. It is important to be aware that Melanin actually provides protection against UV radiation. It is more effective than any sunscreen known to man. It diffuses UV radiation and turns it into harmless heat.
  1. Combining Hydroquinone with skin products that contain benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or other peroxides, (found in most acne treatment) is harmful to the skin. This causes temporary staining of the skin. Also hydroquinone should not be used with any of the new resorcinol-based skin lightening treatments such as Clinique dark spot corrector.
  1. 4% and above hydroquinone concentration is generally considered by most dermatologists to be one of the most effective skin lightening and age spot-brightening agents. Overall, it is considered to be safer for Caucasians and light-skinned Asians BUT not as safe for darker-skinned people (Africans).

Are you a woman of African Descent? Here are 10 Reasons why Hydroquinone is bad (unhealthy) for your skin and should be discontinued:

  1. It is harmful to your health! Although many European and American researchers argue that hydroquinone has NOT been directly linked to Cancer in humans only to mice. However, Hydroquinone clearly has a proven serious side effect on humans as it causes pigmentation of the eye and permanent corneal damage (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venearology, 2006).  This only occurs when the eye is directly exposed to hydroquinone (So if you are still bent on using hydroquinone based products, avoid direct contact with the eyes).

Hydroquinone is bad for black skin2. It causes Ochronosis: For lighter-skinned women of colour (Indians, Chinese, Filipinos etc.), dermatologists often recommend the use of hydroquinone in 3 to 4 months cycles and then alternated with less harmful lightening products. However, in darker skinned women (particularly of African descent), continued use of hydroquinone has been associated with ochronosis, which is a skin disorder characterized by progressive sooty darkening of the skin.

  1. It whitens skin by killing your skin’s pigment cells. It also degenerates collagen and elastin fibres in the skin (Note: Collagen should be strengthened in order to have a youthful, smooth and glowing skin!)
  1. Using Hydroquinone is counter-productive. It defeats the purpose that you want it to achieve. You want glowing, radiant, healthy and brighter skin. The long-term use only leads to these horrible signs and effects: unseemly dark knuckles and ankles, unsightly purplish varicose veins and an unhealthy patchwork of colours on once beautiful skin. Thinking about continuing with hydroquinone? These are reasons enough to have a rethink!
  1. It can cause irritation and contact dermatitis and increases the risk of other types of skin irritation and/or severe itching.
  1. Even if you succeed in bleaching the skin whiter with hydroquinone products, it often has an unhealthy, pasty look. Also, once you stop using it, your skin re-darkens. And since using it long-term is unhealthy, it’s basically a catch-22 situation!
  1. If you live in the tropical region, the combination of hydroquinone and the sun is a bad one. Increased risk of ochronosis have been linked to excess sun exposure while using hydroquinone. As such, dermatologists often recommend always using hydroquinone with a sunscreen that contains a good amount of SPF. (However, note that in the hot African climate, often, even sunscreens do not offer enough protection for the skin).
  1. Most products with hydroquinone have an awful smell and cause intense body heat and sweating.  Users often try to mask the odours by profuse use of perfumes, which seems to make it even worse. There are off-the-shelf hydroquinone-based product(s) that are so potent that users have to constantly stay in air-conditioned rooms!
  1. It thins out the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), which is dangerous especially during or post- surgical procedures, as it may take the skin a longer time to heal from cuts, wounds and/or stitches.
  1. It ages your skin and as you get older the effects become even more pronounced. It is not a pretty sight to see someone whose skin has been damaged by prolonged years of hydroquinone use! Age gracefully and not with disgrace. Love your skin today so that it keeps well and not fall apart tomorrow.

As one gets older, it is not uncommon to have the skin lose its lustre, glow and smoothness. It may be due to a number of factors: age-spots, pregnancy, hyper-pigmentation, post-inflammatory pigmentation, melasma, sun damage due to over exposure, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and improper sleeping patterns. Using the right skin brighteners, vitamin/supplements and eating a proper diet may correct these conditions.

Healthier alternatives to Hydroquinone

If you still desire a lighter, brighter skin tone, some healthier alternatives are products with organic Kojic acid, Arbutin and Vitamin C.

***Since 2003 when this was was published, we’ve received hundreds of emails from people who seek healthier and effective skin care options for black skin, particularly from those who already had bad experiences from prolonged use of hydroquinone-laced products.

WWN is happy to announce that we have established referral partnerships with some of the best skincare specialists in Nigeria and UK (Experts in healing and repairing damaged skin, knuckles, faces that have been burned or darkened as a result of appropriate use of creams with a high percentage of hydroquinone or other harmful chemicals). Serious about healthy skincare? Then contact one of our referral partners – qualified skincare subject matter experts:

  1. Bisi Ladipo of Bitz Body.

(Bitz Body Office Address: 77, Awolowo Rd, Ikoyi, Lagos | Tel: 234(0)8033030838, (0)8121192861 | Email: bisi@bitzbody.com| Chat: bitzbody (yahoo-IM), bitzbody (Skype), B.B pin: 290f2166

When you contact our referral partners, do present the coupon code: “WWN”
This automatically gives you a great discount! It’s WWN’s gift to you :-).

2. Anne Igboka-Onwusowulu

Another popular product-line recommended by our members across Africa is the Natural Skin care & Home fragrance range from the House of Purple Rose (HPR). They carry a range of Arabian and Western blend Perfume Oils. All their oils and serums are handcrafted and made with 100% pure natural ingredients. You may order their products by sending an email to info@houseofpurplerose.com (Again, share the referral code “WWN” to enjoy special discounts).

We are also reaching out to other holistic skincare professionals who are interested in featuring and advertising their products to our growing database of members, all over Africa and in the diaspora. If you have a healthy skincare line for black women, we’d love to hear from you. Our commitment is to offer people an array of quality skincare professionals with tested products and services.

  1.  Research into holistic skincare practitioners who offer organic blends of essential oils, natural brightening butters (Shea and Cocoa) and minerals, made specifically for black women. They can often create a complete and customized range of skincare line which typically contains a complexion soap, toning body moisturizing lotion (night cream), radiance face cream (night cream) and a body silk butter for both face and body (day cream).

Nadia Buari

If you want something over-the-counter, a healthy skin brightening agent highly recommended by award-winning scientific researcher and writer, Nicki Zevola, (Founder and CEO of FutureDerm) is Cape Fear Naturals Kojic Acid Cream Skin Brightener with 4% kojic acid, the highest concentration available in the market without a prescription. (It is recommended to always visit a qualified dermatologist before changing skincare lines.

2. Lumixyl: This was recently developed by Stanford University researchers and has been found to be effective in the treatment of melasma, and general brown patches. It is said to deliver results similar to hydroquinone, but without the toxicity.

One of the best products in the Lumixyl line is the ‘Topical Brightening Crème’, which contains a non-toxic and non-irritating peptide that you can use indefinitely—no need to stop after a few months like Hydroquinone.

It can only be obtained from participating physicians. (Note: The product is still relatively new, it was released in 2009, so there few studies of noted side effects thus far). If you are interested in purchasing it, talk to a qualified skin care practitioner, (It is not sold over the counter).

Genevieve Nnaji3. Cod Liver Oil: According to the recommendations of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which can be found here, CLO is great for treating both acne and dullness of skin. After 8 weeks of use, there is a very noticeable brightness and radiance of the skin.

According to Beautyeditor.ca (A respected and sought after skincare blog, which offers objective and insightful recommendations on all things skincare), the best kind of CLO is the high-quality, fermented variety because the cheaper, highly processed ones tend to be stripped of the very vitamins that make them beneficial (for your skin and health). Her brand of choice is Green Pasture’s (which can be ordered from the U.S.). She also recommends Carlson, the Norwegian brand of CLO.

  1. Know your Minerals and Vitamins! Vitamin A, E and C are particularly good for radiant and brighter skin. They reduce sunspots, skin dullness, wrinkles, UV-induced erythema and sunburn and increase skin firmness and elasticity. Ensure that you also apply a layer of sunscreen. (And avoid going to bed without cleaning off your makeup). Invest in both good day and nighttime moisturizer, to help mitigate the effect of harsh weather/environmental conditions on your skin.
  1.  Exercise, keep fit, stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet with foods rich in Omega-3. Research into and learn more about the right fruits and vegetables that enhance radiant, healthy complexions. To learn more about the right fruits for a radiant, healthy complexion, see our previous post on ‘Eating’ your way to Beautiful Skin: http://wp.me/p1o3v6-9E.

    Leila Lopes

    Leila Lopes

So in conclusion, remember that the skin is the largest organ of the body, so we should take good and proper care of it. We all come in different shapes, sizes and colours. Our skin tones may fall across a wide spectrum (Such as Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji, Supermodels Iman and Alek Wek, Miss Leila Lopes (Universe 2011) or Ghanaian actress Nadia Buari)…and yet the one thing that’s common to all of us is that we are African Queens, beautiful, radiant and regal!


Let us change the narrative and begin to consciously celebrate the skin we are in, by nurturing and pampering it with natural, rich and healthy oils or creams, such as Shea and Cocoa butters, (which our continent produces in bountiful quantities and has the multiplier effect of creating more jobs for our citizens).

We should also develop and adopt a deeper consciousness for holistic skincare regimens through healthy diets, proper sleeping habits, relaxation and exercise, rather than damage and disrespect our skin with bad habits and harmful products like Hydroquinone, Steroids or Mercury. Going forward, we must begin to enjoy and celebrate the unique women that we are and love the beautiful skin we are in!
Take empowered ACTION towards a Healthier, Sexier, Wealthier YOU!

Join the conversation on Twitter: @wholewomaninc or on WWN Facebook page: www.facebook.com/wholewomannetwork

Love, Light & Truth!

-Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido
(You may also find me on my Floetry Blog)
Follow me on Twitter – @julietkego

[Photo credit: Pictures sourced from Google images]

[Sources:  Drugs.com, BBC Documentary on Skin Bleaching in South Africa, 2012, bbc.co.uk, (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 1997), NAFDAC Nigeria, Futurederm.com, Beautyeditor.ca, (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venearology, 2006)].

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