Obsessed with whitening: Are Skin-whitening Products Bad For You?

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Many people, especially women, are concerned about their skin color. Some would slather whitening products all over their body in hopes of achieving lighter skin color. It can be anything from bleaching soaps, fading creams, whiteners, and others. These products generally work by reducing the production of melanin, a pigment in the skin that is responsible for our skin color.

Although there are a good number of reasons to use skin-lightening products, such as addressing discoloration due to hormones, age spots, and acne, more people are using them simply because they want to lighten their naturally dark skin tone. However, is it really safe to use these products for the long term? Or are there risks that come with it? Let’s find out more about kin whitening and the potential risks that you should look out for.

How Skin-whitening Products Work

Cosmetic products that are made to whiten, lighten or brighten skin are marketed to men and women of all ages. These products contain a combination of and some active ingredients that control the production of melanin in the skin. In the US, the most commonly used active ingredient in skin whiteners is hydroquinone. It is FDA regulated where over-the-counter lightening products have 2 percent content while prescription items have 4 to 6 percent content.

If you have any health conditions or are pregnant, check with your health care provider before using any products containing hydroquinone. Likewise, the doctor’s directions should be followed accordingly.

Other products may contain drugs such as retinoic acid and steroids. But some use natural ingredients such as arbutin and kojic acid that are sourced from plants. Whitening teeth through cosmetic dentistry is very different from these ingredients for skin lightening.

What Is the Risk of Using Skin Whiteners?


One of the most prevailing risks associated with the continued use of skin-whitening products is continued exposure to mercury. These products often contain high amounts of mercury, and studies revealed that most users are found to have high mercury levels in their urine, blood, and hair. If this heightened level is prolonged, it can soon damage the kidneys, cause pain and lead to problems in the nervous system. Here are some of the other risks that you should look out for when using skin-whitening products.

Increased risk of skin cancer from sun exposure, so always use sunscreen when going out in the sun while using skin-whitening products.

Long-term use may also contribute to early signs of skin aging.

Skin whiteners containing steroids can increase the risk for skin thinning, improper wound healing, skin infections, and acne.

There is also the risk of health issues related to using steroids when it gets absorbed by the body as you use it on a large portion of your skin.

Pregnant women in the child-bearing phase should be cautious in using skiing whitening products containing mercury. Unborn children and infants are sensitive to mercury. They can suffer the negative effects of mercury even if the pregnant woman does not show symptoms of the exposure.

In some cases, hydroquinone causes untreatable and unwanted skin discolorations.

Skin lightening products with bleaching agents can cause allergic reactions and skin irritations even if they use natural ingredients.

Precautions When Using Skin-whitening Products

Skin-whitening products can be easily purchased from groceries and department stores. There are soaps, lotions, creams, and various other products. Although most of them are accessed without a prescription, it is best to talk to your doctor before using any of them. Read the labels carefully to ensure that it has no mercury listed under other names like mercuric or calomel. If you are buying products with hydroquinone, it should have only a 2 percent content of the chemical. If the label mentions hydroquinone but does not indicate how much it contains, avoid using the product as it might not be safe for use.

Likewise, if you have been using products that contain mercury or unsafe amounts of hydroquinone, best to stop using the product. Your body will soon have normal levels of mercury, and the risk of illnesses or undesirable effects will be reduced. Products with mercury should also be disposed of properly as they can harm other people and animals when they get into the environment.

Skin-whitening products will always be available in the market as there are people who need them. Some people are even obsessed with getting lighter skin tones and try to use various products to achieve their goals. If you have any queries about specific products, consider talking to your doctor to know the safety and risks that come with their use. If you have skin issues like skin spots or discolorations that you want to address, consult with your dermatologist to know the best methods and products to use. They may also offer other treatments which are safer and more attuned to your needs.

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