Skin bleaching usually refers to the use of several products to lighten the dark areas of skin or achieve an overall lighter complexion. These products include soaps, bleaching creams, and pills, as well as various professional treatments like laser therapy and chemical peels.
There is no health benefit of skin bleaching. Results are not guaranteed and there is evidence that the skin lightening can result in severe side effects and complications.
From a medical standpoint, there is generally no need to lighten skin. But if you are considering skin bleaching, it is important to understand the risks as well.
How skin bleaching works
The skin bleaching decreases the production or concentration of melanin in skin. Melanin is a skin pigment secreted by cells known as melanocytes. The quantity of melanin in the skin is generally determined by genetics.
People with very dark skin have more melanin. Sunlight, hormones, sunlight, and some chemicals affect melanin production.
When you use a skin bleaching product on the skin, like hydroquinone, it decreases the overall number of melanocytes in your skin. This could result in lighter skin and a more even appearance to skin.
Skin bleaching side effects
Several countries have put a ban on the use of the skin bleaching products due to the harmful effects associated with them.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a notice that over-the-counter skin bleaching products are not considered as safe. The products were declared not safe for the human use based on evidences.
Skin bleaching has been linked to a number of severe adverse health effects.
Certain skin bleaching products made outside the U.S. have been associated with mercury toxicity. Also, mercury has been completely banned as an ingredient in the skin lightening products in the U.S., but products made in many other countries still have mercury.
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In a study of many skin lightening products purchased online and in stores, around 12 percent contained mercury. Half of these products were bought from U.S. stores.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
- High blood pressure
- Sensitivity to light
- neurologic symptoms, like memory loss, irritability, and tremor
- Kidney failure
Case studies and reports have linked the use of skin bleaching products to dermatitis. This is inflammation of skin caused by contact with some substances.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and include:
- skin redness
- skin ulcers
- dry, scaly skin
The exogenous ochronosis is a type of skin disorder that causes blue-black pigmentation. This usually occurs due to complication of the use of skin bleaching creams that has hydroquinone. Those who use it in the large areas of the body or on the whole body are likely to develop this disease.
Skin bleaching creams which often contain corticosteroids might cause steroid acne. This condition mostly affects the chest, but can even show up on the back, arms, and the other parts of the body with the use of corticosteroids.
Signs can include:
- painful red lumps
- acne scars
- red bumps
- blackheads and whiteheads
It is a kidney disorder mainly caused due to damage of the blood vessels in the kidneys responsible for filtering the waste and excess water. It also causes the body to excrete much protein in your urine.
Skin lightening products having mercury have been usually associated with nephrotic syndrome.
- swelling around the eyes
- Foamy urine
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen feet and ankle
How to use skin bleaching products
Use differs from product to product. The skin lightening creams are often applied only on the dark areas of the skin once or twice in a day.
For using a skin lightening cream, it is suggested to follow the directions of a doctor or on the labeling. This usually involves:
- apply the product using clean hands and a cotton pad
- avoid any contact with the surrounding skin, nose, eyes, and mouth
- wash the hands after use
- avoid touching the treated areas against other people’s skin
- apply the sunscreen to prevent skin damage from UV rays
Many of the skin lightening medications available in the market are consumed once in a day, though there is no clear evidence that those are effective.