Skin lightening products can be used to treat skin discolouration caused by ageing, hormonal changes or sun exposure. It can also even out the skin to hide acne scars or freckles. While skin whitening injections are available, other products include pills and tablets and creams.
The benefits of skin lightening are superficial and purely cosmetic. However, before you use a skin lightening product, make sure you understand what it contains and how it affects your health. If you’re unsure about anything, speak to your GP or a dermatologist.
To help you decide if it’s right for you, here are the key things that you need to know about skin lightening products.
What determines skin colour?
Melanin is a pigment produced by the basal layer cells called melanocytes. The amount of melanin you have determines your skin colour; the more melanin you have the darker your skin is.
There are plenty of studies that found melanin to be a protective pigment. It is said to be a physical barrier that scatters ultraviolet radiation from the sun, preventing the rays from penetrating beyond the epidermis. Studies show that those with fairer skin are 70 times more likely to develop skin cancer than those with darker skin. Despite this, melanin also has harmful effects. When exposed to ultraviolet radiation, melanin can undergo a chemical reaction that makes it carcinogenic. It is said that both the protective and harmful processes of melanin occur simultaneously.
The amount of melanin that you have is largely genetic. However, external factors can also affect your skin colour. These factors include sunlight, hormonal changes and chemical products. Most of these changes are temporary. Over time, however, skin changes that occur due to age can become permanent.
What are skin lightening products used for?
Skin lightening products can be used to treat certain cosmetic skin conditions. The two most common causes for skin discoloration are ageing and sun exposure. Melasma, for example, is a skin condition where patches of darker skin begin to develop on the face, neck and other areas exposed to the sun. Common triggers include birth control pills, pregnancy and stress. Although melasma rarely does any harm, it can affect an individual’s self-image. Dark spots can also develop due to psoriasis or eczema.
With lightening products, the appearance of these dark spots can be minimised. Although these products can’t prevent breakouts or reduce inflammation, they can mitigate the appearance of acne scars.
How do skin lightening products work?
Skin lightening products reduce the amount of melanin in your skin. Most products use hydroquinone, an organic compound that reduces the amount of melanocytes cells in your epidermis. This, in turn, lightens your skin. Other lightening products also use mercury, steroids or retinoic acid in their products. There are even products that use natural ingredients like kojic acid.
Whitening products can come in the form of creams, soaps, pills and injections. Most of these items can be bought over the counter. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these products are not risk-free.
Risks of skin whitening
The Food and Drug Administration cautions against the use of some over the counter skin lightening products. Some documented side effects include complications due to the possible presence of mercury in poor quality products as well as premature ageing of the skin, infections, discolourations and acne.
In terms of physical health, there are no benefits to lightening your skin. On the other hand, self-esteem is an essential part of life. It’s important to remember that there are other ways to improve on this without having to risk your health.
But if you think you’ll benefit from skin lightening, make sure you consult your GP. They will advise you if a product or a procedure is safe. Additionally, a dermatologist might be able to offer you alternative solutions.