Skin bleaching is a controversial subject, especially in the West. But, we have to bear in mind that skin bleaching agents are prescribed by dermatologists for correcting skin unevenness caused by scarring or sun damage. Its original use was aimed at beautifying the complexion, not changing one’s skin tone. In many Eastern countries, such as South Korea and Japan, skin lightening practices are a part of an old cultural heritage. Lighter skin was associated with beauty and nobility, and today, things aren’t any different. However, in these countries, skin lightening is aimed at making the skin look more luminous rather than pale. Facial bleaching products have several effects on the skin other than just lightening. Here is how they work:
The mechanisms of skin bleach
Most skin bleaching agents work by inhibiting melanin production. Melanin is a dark pigment produced by melanocytes, a type of cells found in the epidermis. Sun exposure and inflammation can cause uneven dark spots or freckles. Sometimes these changes in the skin can be bothersome. Women will use skin lightening agents to even out their complexion which will make them look younger. These skin lightening products might also have a peeling effect on the skin. But in certain instances, if used incorrectly, these kinds of products can damage the skin. There are many products to choose from that can be prescribed by a dermatologist or as an over-the-counter treatments.
The leading skin bleach
Hydroquinone (HQ) is widely known as a skin bleaching agent. It is very effective in correcting uneven complexion caused by UV damage, melasma or acne scarring. It works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production. When used accordingly, HQ won’t cause any side effects. But some women will misuse this product and use it to lighten their whole body or use it for many years continuously. Overuse of HQ can cause a dull and tired looking skin. In the worst cases, it can cause serious damage such as exogenous ochronosis, a rare skin condition with dark specks in the skin. The FDA has also considered banning the use of HQ because of studies linking HQ use to cancer.
Alternative skin bleaches
Alternatives to HQ include Arbutin, which is plant derived and the most widely prescribed skin bleaching agent. Other alternatives include Kojic Acid and Glutathione. All are safer, but less effective alternatives to HQ. There are also natural alternatives like vitamin C which is very efficient in skin bleaching and is proved to not cause any side effects in most people. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that that stops the production of melanin in the skin. It is found in many skin creams and serums, but can also be found in concentrated forms to brighten dull skin. Since it causes no side effects, it makes the skin look brighter and refreshed. Vitamin E and Niacinamide are two other skin lightening antioxidants with almost no side effects or skin-dulling.
Other products that are not so much bleaching agents as they are skin brighteners are exfoliants, most notably alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Both are used to rejuvenate the facial skin. They come in 2% concentrations when bought as drug store products, but they can also be applied in much higher doses by an aesthetician as deep peels. They are also used to treat sun damaged skin. These exfoliants work by speeding up cell turnover, making younger cells resurface; this makes the skin look brighter and luminous.
When using these chemicals, you need to make sure to apply sunscreen daily because lightened skin is sensitive and prone to sun damage. The store bought variants of these chemicals are safe and effective and won’t cause dulling of the skin. Aestheticians will use them in higher does as chemical peels. They can be hazardous if not applied with care. Deeper peels can damage the skin and weaken the collagen resulting in a dull look, so it is essential to have a qualified professional perform the treatment.
To sum up, skin bleaches can make the skin look lighter and brighter if used properly and with care. There is a danger with certain harsh facial skin bleaches such as Hydroquinone (HQ). If you overuse these chemicals, your complexion will eventually become unnaturally pale and dull. Moderation is key with such chemicals. Overexposure to sunlight and acne can cause uneven skin tone, which is why dermatologists will prescribe skin-bleaching agents to make the dull complexion brighter more even. Antioxidants and plant derivatives are great alternatives to synthetic skin bleaches and are perfectly safe, although their effect might not be as dramatic, the skin will be thankful for it. Exfoliants and chemical peels can also even out the skin tone without dulling it. Sunscreen is essential if you are planning to use skin bleaching agents because a lack of melanin in your skin makes it more sensitive to sun damage.