What is Skin Lightening?
Skin lightening also known as skin whitening or skin bleaching is the process of lightening one’s skin color. It is used to treat skin problems caused by hyper-pigmentation. Additionally, skin bleaching for cosmetic purposes has also become very popular.
Skin Lightening to treat Hyper-pigmentation
Hormonal imbalances, acne, aging or exposure to sunlight can result in hyper-pigmentation. Hyper-pigmentation is caused by an increase in melanin production. This is usually evidenced by the presence of brown or black spots and patches on the skin.
Skin lighteners are used to curb some skin issues including:
- Post Inflammatory Hyper-pigmentation (PIH)
- Dark spots/acne scars
- Uneven skin tone
- Birth marks
- Age spots
Skin Lightening for Cosmetic Purposes
There has been an increase in the use of skin lighteners by women who have natural dark skin. This trend has become popular in many African, Indian and Asian countries. This is largely owed to the popularized ideas that lighter skin is more beautiful or attractive.
Statistical Reports of Skin Lightening for Cosmetic reasons:
This surge in the use of skin lightening creams resulted in an influx of harmful compounds in beauty products. Compounds like mercury, hydroquinone and corticosteroids give ‘faster’ but very harmful effects.
Is Skin Lightening Bad?
There is generally a negative stigma surrounding skin lightening. This could be owed to the adverse effects of harmful products from bleaching creams. However, skin lightening can be used to treat a variety of hyper-pigmentation disorders. It can also be used relatively safely for cosmetic purposes
Understanding Skin Pigmentation
Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for the color of human skin, eyes and hair. It also protects the skin from Ultra-violet rays. Melanin is produced by melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis.
Exposure to UV rays causes the oxidation of tyrosine in melanocytes (Kim et al., 2016) causing melanin production. This process is mainly regulated by the enzyme tyrosinase which determines the melanin production rate (Kim et al., 2016)
The production of melanin is controlled by various factors such as:
- Exposure to sunlight
How Skin Lighteners Work
Most skin lighteners work by reducing the work of enzyme tyrosinase. This results in a reduction in the rate production of melanin. This process eventually leads to a reduction of pigmentation on the skin.
Skin Lightening Methods:
- Skin Lightening Creams
- Natural Remedies and diet
- Skin whitening surgery
- Skin lightening peels
- Best Skin Lightening Creams
This is a natural skin lightening agent. It helps to correct uneven skin tone and dark spots. It also may be too harsh on the skin therefore dilution in water could be easier to prevent dryness.
Bearberry extracts form Arbutin. This is a skin lightening agent and it prevents melanin formation.
It is a natural antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals. It is also used to control pigmentation. Chamomile can be used on the face by mixing chamomile flowers with warm water and straining it. Place a clean cloth in the solution and apply to your face for about 10-15 minutes
It has natural bleaching properties to clear dark spots and pigmentation
It has natural skin lightening effects to brighten your skin tone. Mostly used in combination with other ingredients
This is a natural powerful anti-oxidant that aids in the protection of skin from UV rays.
Contain skin lightening properties and help to soften skin.
A healthy diet plays a big role in the flourishing of your skin. Outlined are healthy dietary practices:
Drink a lot of water to keep the skin moisturized and hydrated. It also helps in the clearing of skin
Has many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. This keeps your skin healthy
It is good for the removal of dark spots and helps to remove dead skin cells.
This is a very expensive procedure costing that can cost thousands of dollars. The results may be underwhelming.
These are peels that are made from chemical compounds. They can easily cause a lot of damage due to the strength of the acids present. These can cause scarring.
Important Factors to Consider
- Skin lighteners are NOT safe to use for pregnant and lactating mothers. These compounds can affect the genetics, growth and maturation of babies.
- There are a variety of products available that have skin lightening effects. Products can be found online, in cosmetic stores, make-up stores or local markets. Even though the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) have banned the use of substances in lightening creams such as mercury and hydroquinone, harmful bleaching products are still in circulation around the world.
It is therefore imperative to select products that are legitimate and have safe ingredients.
Harmful Compounds / Ingredients to Avoid
This is a melanotoxin that inactivates tyrosinase activity causing a decrease in melanin production
Harmful side effect include:
- Mercury toxicity
- Prenatal and postnatal exposure causes neurological damage and birth defects
- Kidney damage (WHO, 2011)
- Decrease in bacterial skin resistance (WHO, 2011)
- Anxiety, depression and psychosis (WHO, 2011)
It inhibits the production of melanin and decreases hyper-pigmentation (Osei et al., 2018)
Harmful side effects include:
- Prolonged use causing exogenous ochronosis (blue-black pigmentation)
- Leukoderma (skin color loss in blotches)
- Skin burning and dryness
These are compounds that work by causing vasoconstriction of blood vessels resulting in a ‘white’ look.
Harmful Side Effects
- Epidermal thining
- Prolonged use causes hypothalamus-pituitary axis suppression
- prolonged use causes acne, macular hyperpigmentation and diabetes mellitus.
This compound has anti-solar effects and therefore used in sunscreens. The effects on skin has not been intensively researched.
Harmful Side Effects
Large concentrations cause possible risks such as cytotoxicity in neural cells an fibroblasts.
What is the way forward?
- Skin lightening can be used for hyper-pigmentation disorders and for cosmetic purposes. It is important to be knowledgeable about the products you are using to achieve the desired results.
- Safety is paramount when deciding which products to use.
- Consult your doctors and preferably dermatologists to determine what could work well with you. Everybody’s skin reacts differently.
- Your reasons for wanting to brighten your skin should also be interrogated. Sometimes accepting your own complexion and being comfortable in your own skin –light or dark- is healthier for you. Both psychologically and physically too.