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Keywords:

  • corticosteroids;
  • depigmentating agents;
  • hydroquinone;
  • skin bleaching

Abstract

Hydroquinone and other cutaneous depigmenting agents are widely used by dermatologists to treat pigmentary disorders. On 29 August 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a monograph in the US Federal Register proposing to ban all hydroquinone products that have not been approved via a New Drug Application process. Reports in the scientific literature on the occurrence of exogenous ochronosis, in relation to the use of hydroquinone, was one of the concerns expressed by the FDA in relation to this agent. However, a review of the English-language scientific literature reveals that most of the reported cases of hydroquinone-induced exogenous ochronosis occurs in Africa, where the cultural practice of skin bleaching is highly prevalent. Skin bleaching is the practice of applying hydroquinone and/or other depigmenting agents to specific or widespread areas of the body, the primary function being to lighten normally dark skin. This practice typically occurs in men and women with Fitzpatrick skin phototypes IV to VI. It is a dangerous practice associated with a diverse range of side-effects, including mercury poisoning. Thus, this current discussion within the dermatological community on the safety of hydroquinone provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness about skin bleaching.