Skin Lightening More Popular Than Ever Even With The Risks

Everything You Want to Know Before Buying and Using a Skin Lightening Product

Skin lightening or whitening is a rather controversial topic. It offers an enticing mean of improving your skin tone.

Skin Lightening

Skin Lightening

There are different methods available for achieving a lighter complexion. These include special skincare creams and laser treatment. Many choose skincare creams due to the cheaper price and perceived greater safety.

If you are thinking of using a skin lightening product, there are certain things you need to know first. This article addresses the most important aspects, especially regarding the ingredients.

Skin Lightening and Uses

Skin lightening basically refers to the use of special treatments or substances to improve or lighten the skin tone. People use a variety of terms to describe it, including skin whitening, brightening or bleaching.

The human skin is exposed to many factors that can cause it to become dull and dark. Aging, pollutants, dust, dirt, UV rays and chemicals, including those in skincare products, can cause damage to your skin.

Poor nutrition, unhealthy lifestyle choices and stress can also have an unwanted impact on the look of your skin.

These different factors can lead to a variety of issues, including dark circles, age spots, acne scarring, and blotches.

People rely on skin lightening products and treatments for dealing with these problems. They use them to improve or restore the even tone of their skin.

With the aid of a skin lightening product, you may be able to treat areas of the skin with hyperpigmentation to match the color of the surrounding skin. Such zones include birthmarks, moles, melasma and lentigo spots.

Skin whitening is a worldwide phenomenon, although interest in it is reported to be greater in Africa, the Middle East, and India. In 2013, it was forecast that the global market for skin whitening products would reach almost $20 billion by 2018.

How Does Skin Lightening Work?

There are different approaches that products and treatments use for promoting more even, fairer complexion. But lightening agents mainly work either by interfering with the production of melanin or by helping to destroy it.

Melanin is the primary substance that plays a role in the color of your skin. This is a class of dark polymers. Dark-skinned people are known to have a higher amount of it.

The body produces this pigment through a process known as melanogenesis. Scientists have identified two main types of this substance in the skin and hair, namely: eumelanin (black or brown) and pheomelanin (yellow or red). The particular type in your skin will determine its tone.

A person with skin color that appears white has very little melanin or no melanin at all.

Many whitening agents work by inhibiting the production of the pigment. They do this by reducing the activity of certain enzymes that contribute to this process. A notable enzyme in the synthesis is tyrosinase.

Your body depends on L-Tyrosine to make melanin. Tyrosinase converts this amino acid to L-Dopa in the first step of melanogenesis. Lightening agents seek to inhibit the expression, activation or activity of the enzyme, thereby blocking the production of the pigment.

Some other ingredients in whitening products help through depigmentation. They assist in destroying the melanin already present in your body.

Safety Concerns

Many people turn to skin whitening products because they do not feel satisfied enough with using makeup to achieve an even skin tone. They are also often too scared to undergo laser treatments, even if they can afford one.

But products intended for achieving fairer skin tone commonly get a bad rap. They are reported to lead to a variety of other issues that might make them not worth using at all.

A good number of these offerings are said to contain harmful ingredients. There are cases in which they have been found to include toxic chemicals that bring about skin problems, including cancer.

It is common for people to use the term “bleaching” when talking about these safety concerns. Companies typically avoid using it to describe their products for this reason.

The use of harmful ingredients for many years has made bleaching creams to be banned in some countries.

We do not understand entirely why some manufacturers choose such toxic ingredients. This is in the light of the availability of safer or natural alternatives. Perhaps, this may be attributed to a desire for greater profits.

We discuss below some of the dangerous constituents that should make you to immediately toss a skin lightening cream when you notice them. You will also find information on safe ingredients that an ideal product should have.

Harmful Ingredients in Skin Lighteners


Here is one very popular ingredient that manufacturers often included in their formulation. More people are now aware of its dangers, with this making some companies resort to using of clever descriptions, such as mercury, ammoniated mercury or mercurous chloride, for it.

Mercury has been used for skin lightening for several decades. It is highly regarded for its ability to slow melanin synthesis when it’s applied to the skin. To sweeten the deal for manufacturers, the price is low and it is easy to get.

The use of this for skin lightening had since been banned in many countries – as far back as the 1970s in Europe. The substance is banned and classified as a toxin in the United States.

Mercury has the potential to remain on your skin for a long time and so create other issues. It causes skin discoloration and undue scarring. There are also reports of it affecting brain function and causing kidney damage. It could also cause brain defects in babies when used by pregnant or nursing mothers


This is one of the skin lightening agents that help through depigmentation. Creams or topical solutions containing monobenzone are typically recommended more for people with vitiligo, a condition characterized by light and dark areas on the skin. The compound helps to reduce the pigment in your skin to make the color even.

But it may destroy melanocytes, which produce melanosomes needed for melanin synthesis. Permanent or irreversible depigmentation can result from using it because of this.

Doctors do not recommend monobenzone for any other conditions apart from vitiligo. But you’d be surprised to learn that some companies include it in general cosmetics. Problems that may result from using such include uneven depigmentation and greater sensitivity to the sun.

This skin lightening ingredient is so disturbing in that your use of it may also have unintended effects on others. It is said that you can cause depigmentation in other people by mere skin contact when using it.


Are you surprised? You probably didn’t know before now that steroids may be present in skin whitening products. But they can.

There are different ways steroids may help with skin lightening. One of these has to do with how they slow down the activity of melanocytes. But they can reduce natural skin cell turnover as well.

The inclusion of these controversial substances in lightening creams is not the main issue, however. Eczema and psoriasis are two of the conditions that dermatologists often use them to treat. The real problem is with prolonged use.

Steroids, including corticosteroids, are specifically intended for the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions. They must also be prescribed, which means you should ideally not find them in general cosmetic products. You risk permanent damage to your skin when you use them long-term for skin lightening.

Mineral oil

Many skincare products include mineral oil as a constituent. Manufacturers use it as a result of how it can help to moisturize the skin. It is also cheap – cheaper than natural essential oils.

However, fear has been raised about the ability of this ingredient to cause skin issues. Mineral oil can block your skin pores and make it hard to get rid of harmful substances. You may have problems such as acne and pimples because of this. Worse still, the ingredient is believed to be potentially carcinogenic.


You aren’t really supposed to get skin lightening benefit from this one. Parabens are a group of preservatives. Manufacturers mainly use them to prolong the shelf life of cosmetic products.

Possible issues that may result from this ingredient include interference with your endocrine and reproductive systems. It has also been found to increase the risk of a person for having cancer.


Here you have a very popular ingredient in skincare products. Hydroquinone is an agent that inhibits melanin synthesis by blocking the enzyme tyrosinase. It is very effective at this. You will commonly find it in many whitening creams for this reason.

This one is not as terrible as the other harmful ingredients. This is because experts sometimes recommend it, specifically the 2% (or lower) concentration versions. But how can you be sure of the strength of the one in that lightening cream, especially when it is not indicated?

Apart from the strength, long-term use of hydroquinone increases your risk of side effects. It can result in skin discoloration, which may be permanent when this is the case. This may also adversely affect certain enzymes that play key roles in your body.

Alcohol, dioxane, and phthalates are among the other potentially harmful ingredients you should watch out for in skin lightening creams for dark spots.

What are Some of the Safe Ingredients to Look for?

Citrus Extracts

When talking natural, safe skin lighteners, the list will not be complete without including extracts from citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons. These are beneficial mainly due to their high vitamin C content. The compound is believed to offer skin lightening properties.

It is more common, however, to hear people talk about vitamin C more generally in terms of benefits to the skin. The compound boasts antioxidant properties that can help arrest signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.

Citrus extracts are also believed to contribute to the production of collagen, which is a secret behind the firm, younger-looking skin. They improve the texture of your skin and encourage the growth of new cells.


Also referred to as vitamin B3, this ingredient will often be found in high-quality skincare offerings. One of the reasons this is the case is due to its skin lightening effect. It helps to lower the production of melanin.

Niacinamide produces antioxidant effects and has anti-inflammatory properties. You can find it helpful for having smooth, soft skin due to how it preserves moisture. The vitamin also assists in regulating the oiliness of your skin.

The efficacy of this vitamin is believed to be amplified when it is used together with N-acetyl glucosamine.


It is possible that you might have heard people suggest fruits, such as paper mulberry, bearberry or blueberry, for skin lightening. This is due to the presence of a compound known as arbutin, also known as hydroquinone-(beta)-D-glucoside.

Arbutin helps by lowering the production of melanin in your body. It comes in two isomers: alpha and beta. The alpha isomer is more stable and preferred for skin brightening.

This natural ingredient is regarded as a safer alternative to popular depigmenting agents used in most products. The pure forms are the most potent when it comes to inhibiting tyrosinase.

Azelaic acid

It is not everything with the word “acid” that is harmful. Many such things are natural and beneficial. So, do not be afraid.

A constituent of barley and other grains, azelaic acid is more commonly used for the treatment of acne and rosacea. Its pH level is about the same as your skin’s, with this making it very safe.

Researchers have found that this ingredient can also help for skin lightening. Studies show it to be an effective treatment for skin discolorations. It may help in blocking melanin production.

The concentration in a skin lightening cream should ideally be in the range 10-20%.


A popular anti-aging ingredient, this tripeptide molecule is known to guard against oxidative damage to the skin. Skin lightening is just one of the many benefits that have been linked to it.

Glutathione also appeals with its potential to prevent sun damage. Skin lightening usually reduces your natural protection against the sun. But this ingredient contains antioxidant properties that can shield you against ultraviolet rays.

Experts say, however, that the molecule is less efficiently absorbed when applied topically. One way of getting around this problem is by combining with other agents, such as vitamin C.

Licorice extract

The Chinese are known to use this for different types of skin conditions. Extracts from the licorice plant, especially glabridin, have been shown in research to be potentially useful for skin lightening.

The properties are thought to brighten the skin through different means. But they mostly work by inhibiting the activity of the enzyme tyrosinase – possibly by up to 50 percent.

Kojic acid

Research has shown this to be effective for skin whitening because of how it inhibits melanin synthesis. It does this by blocking the activity of tyrosinase.

Perfect for damaged and sensitive skin, the crystalline powder is a by-product of malting rice fermentation. It is usually obtained during production of the Japanese rice wine, sake. People in Japan are said to have been using this for a long time in dealing with skin discoloration.

You should note that it is not the same as the more stable kojic dipalmitate which some companies settle for. While that other ingredient may also be helpful, it is not as effective as kojic acid.

Glycolic acid

This is one of the two alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) with most research on them – the other being lactic acid. These are highly regarded for their ability to penetrate deep into the top layers of the skin due to their molecular sizes.

Many people know glycolic acid as an exfoliant. It helps to enhance cell turnover and to get rid of unhealthy or dead skin cells. But it does more than that.

With this ingredient, you can have brighter skin as well. Research shows that it can help you to reduce your body’s production of melanin, thereby promoting even skin tone.


While skin lightening or bleaching may be a controversial topic, it is not something everyone can afford. People who have skin issues, such as age spots, blotches, dark circles, and patches, will certainly not be deterred by bad reports about it.

The truth is that skin whitening is mainly frowned upon due to adverse effects that can result. A major explanation for such problems is the use of dangerous ingredients by manufacturers, probably in a bid to make more money. This harmful trend appears to now be changing as consumers become more informed.

As you can see above, there are safe, natural ingredients that can give you a brighter, healthier skin tone. You only need to look for these ones in products you intend buying. Do your research on any other ingredients that we haven’t mentioned here as well before making your purchase.





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