Skin lightening products have been an obsession for many people. These brighteners, whiteners, or bleaching creams (as they are often called) are used in fading out melasma, age spots, and treating other skin related problems like acne and discoloration.
As a technique to lighten dark skin, these treatments and products have their fair share of risks. But first, how does a skin lightening cream work?
In this article, we'll provide answers to the questions you may have about skin whitening creams and treatments.
What's in skin color?
Our skin colors are influenced by numerous factors, the most significant of them being a pigment called melanin. This pigment, produced by melanocytes, is also responsible for the color of your hair and eyes, and its composition in your body is proportional to your skin tone. Therefore, people with dark skin have higher contents of melanin than those with fairer ones.
Melanin works in protecting the skin from UV radiation, and its production in your body is affected by skin damage, hormones, age, and chemical exposure. However, while many tone changes resolve themselves after a while (like tans), some others become permanent.
This is when a skin whitening cream becomes useful in making the tone of the skin even.
What is skin lightening?
Skin lightening is the treatment that involves the whitening of dark areas or the overall complexion of the skin. It is a cosmetic treatment that may be done with whitening soaps, pills, laser therapy, and chemical peels. However, using a skin whitening cream has been the most common way (that balances between the risk involved and effectiveness) to even out the skin's color or change its overall tone.
Many skin bleaching products have mercury as their active elements. However, their use is known to be harmful to their users' health. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans producers from including mercury in cosmetics except in conditions where there is no other option.
One reason for this is because of the neurological, psychiatric, and kidney problems that the chemical poses. It has been one of the chemicals of major health concerns for governing bodies.
What are the components of a skin whitening cream?
A whitening cream contains an active agent and other ingredients that reduce the color pigment (melanin) of the skin. They can be bought over-the-counter or prescribed by a dermatologist.
Hydroquinone is one of the most common ingredients found in skin lightening creams. Although the FDA has approved its use as a depigmenting agent, an over-the-counter lightening cream must not contain more than 2% of the substance. On the other hand, a whitening cream that contains between 4% and 6% of the compound must be prescribed by a dermatologist.
Apart from hydroquinone, skin lightening creams may also contain natural ingredients like arbutin, corticosteroids like hydrocortisone and other topical steroids.
What are the risks involved in using skin whitening creams?
Companies that make skin whiteners are making a profit, but their products pose significant risks to customers. The most alarming of these dangers is mercury poisoning caused by over-exposure to the chemical, with devastating reports to show the harm skin bleachers that contain this substance bring.
The widely used hydroquinone can also be dangerous to the skin even as it is allowed in low amounts. Some of the ingredient's side effects include ochronosis in rare cases (skin discoloration), and temporary dryness or redness at first use of the product.
Apart from the dangers of these two ingredients, skin whiteners also pose other threats like:
- Premature aging: Ironically, a whitening cream can cause aging skin when used excessively over time.
- Cancer: Another risk that skin lighteners pose is that they increase the chances of getting skin cancer. This reason for this is the chemicals that are contained in many of them, and their interaction with UV light when exposed to the sun.
- Irritation and allergies: The bleaching and natural ingredients contained in skin lighteners can cause allergies and irritations, especially when used on the face.
- Infections, thinning, and acne: These are health risks involved in using skin lighteners that contain harsh chemicals.
Preventive care tips when using skin whiteners
A couple of tips that could help when using skin whiteners are:
- Visit your doctor before using any skin product: Your dermatologist is in the best position to advise you on skincare routines and the skin whitening cream you should use.
- Ensure that the whitener does not contain mercury: Many companies have found clever ways to hide their product's ingredients list, and others list mercury as mercuric, Mercurio, calomel, and mercurous chloride. Avoid these products.
- Ensure that hydroquinone is contained in the correct quantity: Hydroquinone is still a regulated substance. Therefore, you should always ensure that it is contained in the correct percentage (not more than 2%).
- Follow the instructions on how to use the skin whitener: Generally, you should use a skin whitener twice a day for some weeks to start seeing results. Fast-tracking the timeline may lead to any of the dangers that we've listed above.
Frequently asked questions
Q1. Can I get my natural color back after using a skin whitening cream?
Yes. You can get your natural skin color back after using a lightening cream. However, it will take weeks to reverse the effects of the whitener.
Q2. Do skin lightening creams affect tattoos?
Skin whiteners are different from tattoo removal creams, and they do not have the same effect.
Q3. Are there natural ways to lighten my skin?
Yes. There are natural ways to lighten your skin.
Regulatory agencies like the FDA have not come out to outrightly ban the use of bleaching creams. However, some whitening creams are illegal and contain elements that can ruin your skin.
Therefore, always seek your dermatologist's input before going ahead to use a whitening cream even if you intend to get it over-the-counter.