Hydroquinone is an aromatic compound that functions in cosmetics as an antioxidant, fragrance, reducing agent, or polymerization inhibitor. Hydroquinone is also used as a skin bleaching agent. Safety and toxicity information indicate that hydroquinone is dermally absorbed in humans from both aqueous and alcoholic formulations and is excreted mainly as the glucuronide or sulfate conjugates. Hydroquinone is associated with altered immune function in vitro and in vivo in animals and an increased incidence of renal tubule cell tumors and leukemia in F344 rats, but the relevance to humans is uncertain. Quantitatively, however, the use of hydroquinone in cosmetics is unlikely to result in renal neoplasia through this mode of action. Thus, hydroquinone is safe at concentrations of ≤1% in hair dyes and is safe for use in nail adhesives. Hydroquinone should not be used in other leave-on cosmetics.
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