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Hydroquinone (depigmenting agent)

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jun 29, 2021

Hydroquinone is a depigmenting agent that lighten areas of the skin that have become dark due to scarring, hormonal changes, and sun exposure. Hydroquinone works by blocking the action of melanin in the skin that leads to discoloration.


Know the basics

What is hydroquinone used for?

  • Age spots
  • Freckles
  • Chloasma
  • Melasma
  • Other types of hyperpigmentation of the skin
  • How should I take it?

    Read the directions on the packaging for complete information. Check the label and expiration date. If it is your first time using this product, do a skin test on a small portion of your skin. Check for any adverse reactions within 24 to 48 hours.

    Apply hydroquinone to the affected areas of skin, usually twice daily or as directed by your doctor. It is only intended for the skin. If it is used incorrectly, unwanted skin lightening may occur. Avoid getting hydroquinone in your eyes or on the inside of your nose or mouth. If you do get hydroquinone in those areas, flush with plenty of water.

    It may make the treated areas of skin more sensitive to the sun. Avoid prolonged sun exposure, tanning booths, and sunlamps. Use sunscreen and wear protective clothing on the treated areas of skin when outdoors.

    How do I store it?

    This product is best stored at controlled room temperature away from direct light and moisture. To prevent drug damage, you should not store it in the bathroom or the freezer. 

    There may be different brands of this drug that may have different storage needs. So, it is important to always check the product package for instructions on storage, or ask your pharmacist. For safety, you should keep all medicines away from children and pets.

    You should not flush this product down the toilet or pour them into a drain unless instructed to do so. Additionally, it is important to properly discard this product when it is expired or no longer needed. Consult your pharmacist for more details about how to safely discard your product.

    Know the precautions & warnings

    What should I know before using hydroquinone?

    Before using this drug, tell your doctor if you are/have:

    • Pregnant or breastfeeding.
    • Taking any other medicines. This includes any prescription, OTC, and herbal remedies.
    • An allergy to any of the ingredients of this product.
    • Any other illnesses, disorders, or medical conditions.

    Is it safe to take during pregnancy or breast-feeding?

    Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information about the safety of using this drug during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, it is likely safe to take. Please always consult with your doctor to weigh the potential benefits and risks before taking any medication.

    This medication is pregnancy risk category C according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    FDA pregnancy risk category reference below:

    • A=No risk
    • B=No risk in some studies
    • C=There may be some risk
    • D=Positive evidence of risk
    • X=Contraindicated
    • N=Unknown

    Avoid applying this medication to the breast and nipple area before breastfeeding. Wait for 1-2 hours after applying it and cleanse the area with mild soap and water before allowing your child to breastfeed or pumping breast milk.

    Know the side effects

    What are the side effects of hydroquinone?

    Like all drugs, this product may have side effects. If they occur, side effects are generally mild and resolve once treatment is finished or the dose is lowered. Some reported side effects include:

    • Skin irritation
    • Discoloration
    • White spots
    • Photosensitivity
    • Dermatitis

    However, not everyone experiences these side effects. In addition, some people may experience other side effects. So, if you have any concerns about a side effect, please consult your doctor or pharmacist.

    Know the interactions

    What drugs may interact with hydroquinone?

    This medication may interact with other drugs that you are currently taking, which can change how your drug works or increase your risk for serious side effects. 

    To avoid any potential drug interactions, you should keep a list of all the drugs you are using (including prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs, and herbal products) and share it with your doctor and pharmacist.

    Does food or alcohol interact with hydroquinone?

    This drug may interact with food or alcohol by altering the way the drug works or increase the risk for serious side effects. Please discuss with your doctor or pharmacist any potential food or alcohol interactions before using this drug.

    What health conditions may interact with hydroquinone?

    This drug may interact with underlying conditions. This interaction may worsen your health condition or alter the way the drug works. Therefore, it is important to always let your doctor and pharmacist know all the health conditions you currently have, especially:

    • Liver or kidney disease
    • Asthma or sulfa allergy
    • Infection

    Understand the Dosage

    The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. Therefore, you should always consult with your doctor or pharmacist before using any medication.

    What is the dose for an adult?

    After cleansing the skin and your hands, apple a thin layer on the hyperpigmented areas twice a day. Avoid applying it to other areas of your skin. Wash your hands immediately after handling the product. Wear sunscreen

    What is the dose for a child?

    There is no established pediatric dose for children under 12 years old. It may be unsafe for your child. It is always important to fully understand the safety of the drug before using. Please consult with your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

    Available dosages

    Hydroquinone is available in the following dosage forms and strengths:

    • Topical cream or gel: 1.5%, 2%, 4%
    • Topical solution: 3%

    What should I do in case of an emergency or overdose?

    Overdose is not likely with topical medications. In case of an emergency or a serious adverse reaction, call your local emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room.

    What should I do if I miss a dose?

    If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible. However, if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and take your regular dose as scheduled. Do not take a double dose.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Written by

    Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


    Updated Jun 29, 2021

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