· Hydroquinone or HQ is an active agent in skin whitening products manufactured and sold locally.
· Skin whitening products are supposed to be used to treat hyperpigmentation or darkened skin.
· The popularity of skin whiteners in the Philippines is mainly due to the belief that whiter skin makes a person more attractive.
· The problem is that in recent years, it was found that HQ poses some health risks to users .
· There have been reports of complications arising from the unsupervised use of HQ-based products ranging from nail discoloration to ochronosis, a condition where the skin darkens and grey-blue bumps on sun-exposed skin areas appear, to fish odor syndrome, a condition where the body emits a rotting fish odor.
· Recent studies in the United States also indicate that the unsupervised use of HQ can encourage cells to develop into cancerous cells.
· HQ products have already been banned in Europe, Australia and Japan since 2001. HQ has also been banned by the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.
· Local skin whiteners have HQ formulation ranging from 2% to 4%,.
· In other countries where HQ formulated products are still being sold (like the US), the sale of HQ-based products is highly regulated precisely because of the dangers of “HQ overdose.” Products with HQ are sold as prescription drugs – meaning its use is subject to the supervision of a doctor.
· But here in the Philippines, skin whiteners with HQ formulation are sold over-the-counter regardless of concentration. You can buy 4% HQ formulated skin whiteners freely in most supermarkets.
· There are a number of popular brands of skin whitening astringents and exfoliants in the Philippine market which contain from 2% to 4% Hydroquinone. These can be bought easily in supermarkets without the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.
· Another local product is simply branded as “Hydroquinone” and has 4% HQ formulation and is manufactured by a local company.
· It is high time that the warning bells are sounded and Filipinos are educated on the proper use of HQ formulated skin whiteners.
· In Europe, medical researchers have called the continuous and unsupervised use of HQ-positive products as “a time bomb waiting to explode.”
· The House of Representatives had, at one time, sought to limit the OTC sale of skin whiteners with HQ (House Resolution 464 was authored by Reps. Imee Marcos, Ferjenel Biron and Gilbert Remulla which sought an inquiry into the hazardous effects of HQ and hydroquinone methylether with the end in view of determining whether there is a need to reclassify and regulate the use of such chemical substances. This was in 2005).
· Because of the harmful effects, some Congressmen have proposed that medicines containing 2% HQ or less should be classified as pharmacy-only medicines, while those with 1%or less as general sale medicine in hair and skin preparations. All other preparations should be prescription medicines, they added.
· The Department of Health issued Administrative Order 90 in September 2003 which reclassified and revised the use of HQ preparations in skin whiteners. The AO says: “All preparations containing HQ as the only active ingredient with the corresponding concentrations are classified as:
1. HOUSEHOLD REMEDIES – for preparations containing less than or equal to 2% HQ. They can be dispensed without the supervision of a licensed pharmacist;
2. OVER-THE-COUNTER DRUGS – for preparations containing more than 2% but less than or equal to 4% HQ. They must be dispensed under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist;
3. PRESCRIPTION DRUGS – for preparations containing more than 4% but less than 5% HQ. They must be dispensed only by licensed pharmacists of registered drug outlets upon the presentation of proper prescription;
· The Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS) also said that there are some unethical practices by some manufacturers which indicate disguise Hydroquinone by using synonyms like “1,4-benzenediol” or “p-diphenol.”
· There is a real danger in the unsupervised use of skin whiteners with HQ, especially if it is used indiscriminately over a long period of time.