Is your Skin Whitener Damaging your Skin and Risking your Health?

Know what you feed your skin. (photo from

Everyone seems to have become so obssessed  with  skin whitening and bleaching, and you see evidence of  this everyday and  everywhere. Tune in to your favorite TV show and you’ll see lots of TV advertisement endorsers flaunting  their lightened skin. Do your grocery shopping  and you’ll  see the influx of these skin whitening products.

In Asia, being white or light skinned has become very popular. Women, in general, have always wanted to whiten their facial skin.  Three thousand years ago, women of Greek and Roman  smeared lead paint  and chalk on their faces to “fake” having whiter skin and this practice had been observed in most cultures. The woman with the whitest skin  will be  the the most beautiful. Why do you think Snow White was  the “fairest” of them all, with her skin as white and, ironically, as pale as the snow.

The obsession with white skin has, over the centuries, greatly  evolved, initially as a sign of beauty where  pale skin has represented sophistication, innocence and femininity. Now, whiter skin even denotes higher social stature.  Unfortunately, in pursuit  of  whiten skin, women ( and some men) will try just about anything.

How  does sking lightening work? 

Know what you feed your skin. (photo from

Skin whitening and  bleaching is done with the the use of  compounds and chemicals that will lessen the concentration of melanin, the substance that gives the skin and hair its natural color, aiming to lighten skin tone or to achieve an even skin complexion.

Some substances have been shown to be effective in skin whitening, though some have been proven to be toxic, not only to the skin but can impact one’s overall health. If you’re one of those fawning over a whiter complexion, protect yorself by knowing the skin whiteners  and  the amount that could pose  health risks. Next time you grab that jar of whitening cream, check the  ingredients and decide for yourself whether they’ll be bad for you. Here are some of the most common whitening ingredients  you will  find:

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the production of  melanin. Due to its link to skin cancer,  hydroquinone has been banned in various countries. Though hydroquinone does not bleach the skin, it has been banned in some countries (e.g. France) because of fears of cancer risk as hydroquinone disrupts the synthesis and production of melanin hyperpigmentation. The European Union banned it from being used cosmetics since 2001, but some developing countries still use it in bootleg creams.  It can be purchased over the counter but only a with a concentration of not exceeding 2 percent. Anything higher than 2% is considered toxic.

Mercury  had been banned as a cosmetic ingredient since 1976 in Europe and 1990 in the USA because it accumulates on the skin and it can have the opposite results in the long term.  The most immediate side effects of mercury-based products can include rashes and skin  irritation but the long-term effects, however, are even more dangerous, and nearly  irreversible.  Long term exposure  to mercury has been shown to cause  brain damage, kidney problems, speech and hearing impediments, and damage to the  nervous system. Read the label on all your skin products and if you find the words: “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio” or “mercury,” as ingredients, drop that product as soon as you can.

Steroids can also be used as an active ingredient in skin whitening products, with  the usage often minimized to a few short weeks. Prolonged usage of topical skin creams with steroids as active ingredients can cause weight gain, stretch marks,  inability to conceive, and in the most serious of cases, a malfunction of the  adrenal glands.

Kojic and Azelaic Acid , though both found  naturally, as byproducts of  processed rice wine and  whea, rye, and barley. Kojic in skin whitening products is still highly debated because it is  considered as a carcinogen in excessive dosages. Its chemical composition is  so unstable that it loses its effectiveness when exposed to air and oxygen. Azelaic acid is a similarly naturally occurring chemical compound  that has dynamic short-term skin clearing effects.  Azelaic acid is used to treat acne, but there also is research showing it to be effective for skin discolorations.

Arbutin, derived from the leaves of bearberry, cranberry, mulberry or blueberry shrubs, have melanin-inhibiting properties. Arbutin and other plant extracts are considered safe alternatives to commonly used depigmenting agents to make the skin fairer. Medical studies have shown the efficiency of arbutin for skin lightening. Patents  have been done to control the use of arbutin for skin lightening. When you check the label of a cosmetic item containing arbutin, opt for the one that says alpha arbutin. The alpha conformation offers higher stability over the beta conformation and is the preferred form for skin lightening indications.

Glycolic Acid comes from fruit acids so it is a natural product. It is very  popular in many skin care products for bleaching the  skin. At low  concentrations, glycolic acid has an epidermal discohesive effect which makes the skin more sensitive and easily traumatized.  At  higher concentrations, glycolic acid results to a loosened state of the epidermis with formation of blebs and bullae which can cause severe scarring after healing.

Lactic acid  comes from dairy products, such as milk and cheese. It  is  a natural  acid, milder than glycolic acid and can be used in direct contact to the skin.  An example of  lactic acid readily available and usable is the yoghurt. It contains lactic acid to exfoliate, and probiotics to help balance the bacterial growth on the skin’s surface. It is so gentle it can be used daily as a face wash.

If fear for your health does not  stop you from altering your natural color, you should at least  know what’s  whitening your skin. Knowing   its dangers  will give you second thoughts, if not a complete stop, to your desire  to join the bandwagon of one  of the world’s biggest beauty and social misconception.

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