Skin creams, we use them to treat age spots, acne scars and discoloration due to hormones. We even use them to lighten darker skin tones to a lighter pigment. However, skin lightening products, otherwise known as bleaching creams, whiteners, skin brighteners or fade creams, can come with some serious risks to your health.
According to WebMD, skin lightening products work by reducing the pigment known as melanin in the skin. The amount of melanin you have in your body is determined by your genetics; meaning a person of say, Italian, Hispanic or African American heritage might have quite a bit of melanin, while those of Irish, Scottish or Swedish decent may have less.
Skin lightening products contain hydroquinone, an ingredient that has been banned in Europe due to its carcinogenic nature. According to Kim Laudati, owner and operator of Queen Bees salon in New York and creator of Kim Laudati Skin Care, numerous studies have linked hydroquinone to a skin disease known as exogenous ochronosis. Exogenous ochronosis is a bluish-black, bruise-like discoloration of the skin that is very difficult to treat and nearly impossible to remove. Laudati said that the U.S is the only country that still prescribes and sells these products, and said that she is confused how we can distribute what’s basically a carcinogenic, as nonchalantly as we do.
If a skin disease isn’t quite enough to have you pitching your favorite lightening cream, there are additional factors to consider. According to Board Certified Dermatologist Debra Jaliman, these side effects include:
- Thinning skin
- Broken blood vessels
- Excessive lightening, leading to white patches
- Patch hyperpigmentation
While some may argue that these side effects are more vanity issues than actual medical problems, additional studies have proven that these creams, when used for prolonged periods of time, actually can cause severe health problems.
The New York Times stated that the mercury in many of these creams can cause damage to the central nervous system, and the steroids in the creams can also lead to hypertension, suppression of the body’s own natural steroids as well as elevated blood sugar. Even worse, according to an article published by Dr. Oz, skin lightening creams have also been proven to suppress the body’s immune system and cause skin cancer.
Although other countries have banned the use of products containing hydroquinone, they are still available in the U.S. both with and without a prescription. The FDA does claim to regulate the use, allowing physicians to prescribe lighteners containing no more than 4% hydroquinone, but over-the-counter products, containing 2% hydroquinone, can be purchased without a prescription by anyone of any age.
While we all agree that bright, even skin is in high demand in our society, we must determine if feeling flawless is worth the risk to our health. If you are determined to use skin lightening creams despite the risks, make sure to speak with your doctor beforehand, follow all instructions and watch for any negative changes to your skin or health.