Skin bleaching creams, also called skin lighteners, or whiteners, are creams made of substances that lighten the skin color by reducing melanin. The amount of melanin you have is determined mainly by your genetic make up, such that the more melanin you have, the darker your skin is. Other factors such as hormones, exposure to sunlight, and exposure to some chemicals, can also affect how much melanin your skin produces.
Many people around the world use skin bleaching creams to treat various skin problems, ranging from acne scars, to age spots, to localized dark patches, like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. Some people who are naturally dark-skinned also lighten their skin using bleaching creams. These creams can either be bought as either prescription drugs, or over the counter creams. The ones that are easily accessible over the counter are unregulated and can be very risky to use.
What are Skin Bleaching Creams Made Of?
Bleaching creams can contain one or multiple active ingredients, which reduce melanin pigment when applied on the skin. Some of these ingredients are more effective than others, which explains why some lighteners work, while others don’t.
Hydroquinone is the most common active ingredient in many skin lighteners. In the US, hyroquinone is regulated by the FDA, and you can only buy a bleaching cream containing up to 2% hydroquinone over the counter. Depending on your skin problem, your dermatologist can prescribe for you a lightener with up to 4% hydroquinone.
Other ingredients used in lighteners include topical retinoids, steroids, kojic acid, arbutin and mercury. It is worth noting that mercury is a very toxic agent, which has the potential of causing serious side effects, including mercury poisoning, as well as kidney, neurological and mental problems. It can also be passed from the mother to her unborn child, so pregnant women should stay away from any skin lighteners containing mercury.
What are the Risks Associated with Using Bleaching Creams?
The risks of using a whitening cream depends mainly on which active ingredient it is made of, the concentration, the size of area it is applied, as well as, how long it is used. The most significant risk is the possibility of getting exposed to mercury, which is very toxic and can lead to numerous health problems as you’ve read above. Long-term application can also cause the darkening of your nails and skin. This s caused by mercury being deposited in your dermis, epidermis and hair follicles.
Hydroquinone, when used for more than six months, can also cause serious risks to your skin. The main risk that comes with prolonged use is the development of exogenous ochronosis, an untreatable blue-black stain on the skin and nails, which is caused by a deep deposition of the pigment in the skin.
Steroids may also cause skin thinning, poor wound healing, increased risk of skin infections and acne. In addition, long-term use on large areas of the body, can put you at risk of developing various health problems caused by its absorption into the body.
Before buying any skin bleaching cream, always ask your doctor about it first, to be sure that it’s safe and won’t cause undesirable side effects on your skin.