Risks of Trying to Lighten Your Dark Skin

Skin lightening, or skin bleaching, is a billion-dollar-a-year worldwide industry. Not only does it have global financial implications, but it also poses a catastrophic global health problem with emotional and physical implications.

Key takeaways:

Many products and procedures used to bleach dark skin can cause significant health risks and should not be performed. Let's explore the risk factors with skin bleaching.

What is skin lightening?

Skin lightening of dark skin is also referred to as skin bleaching or skin whitening. It is the act of physically removing the pigment melanin from the skin, either with topical creams or by ingesting chemicals. Skin lightening carries a global prevalence of about 28%, mostly affecting females under 30 years of age.

Is skin lightening harmful?

The lightening of dark skin is a global health problem that causes not only physical consequences but also emotional, financial, and psychological harm. It erodes self-confidence and negatively impacts the mental health of individuals. Even though many countries outlawed skin-lightening bleaching products, it has not stopped people using creams and undergoing skin lightening procedures.

Are there complications of skin lightening?

Skin lightening can cause significant and deadly harm to people.

  • Rashes. At the very least, it can cause a rash (dermatitis) because the person is allergic to it or just irritated by the products. Continued use of the products can lead to open wounds that do not heal and may scar or get infected.
  • Skin cancers. Melanin is a pigment produced in the top layer of the skin, which protects against harmful cancer-causing UV rays of the sun. By removing melanin, the skin is at increased risk for the development of skin cancers, such as melanoma. Also, the more pigment you have in your skin, the less premature skin aging and wrinkling you will develop.
  • Diagnosis delay. Skin lightening and bleaching can delay the diagnosis of melanoma. By removing pigment from the skin, your dermatologist may not be able to visualize variations in the color of skin lesions. One of the hallmarks of melanoma is a skin lesion that changes color or contains many colors within it. Since melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, early diagnosis and treatment are critical to survival. You do not want to do anything to change the color of the skin lesions, which would result in delayed diagnosis and even death.

Products used to lighten the skin

Many prescription products are used illegally and without required medical supervision to lighten the skin, such as steroids, hydroquinone, and glutathione.

  • Topical or systemic steroids. Commonly prescribed by doctors for inflammatory medical conditions, like asthma, lupus, or skin rashes. They are usually prescribed for short periods to prevent side effects. Prolonged unsupervised use of steroids for skin bleaching can cause infections and suppressed immune systems, high blood pressure, diabetes, thinning of the skin, stretch marks, acne, cataracts, and glaucoma.
  • Hydroquinone. A controversial medication used to whiten the skin. It is prescribed to lighten dark spots on the skin under a doctor's supervision for a short time. When abused, hydroquinone can lead to dermatitis, systemic and skin cancers, ochronosis (darkening of the skin), fetal growth retardation, and peripheral neuropathy.
  • Glutathione is used to help treat various conditions, such as cancers, gastrointestinal diseases, and AIDS under a doctor's supervision. It is often abused for skin-lightening purposes. This can lead to liver, brain, and kidney toxicities, dermatitis, and thyroid dysfunction.
  • Camphor. Commonly used to treat pain and itchiness. It can also help treat warts, cold sores, and insect bites. When abused for skin lightening, it not only can lead to dermatitis and burns, but may also cause brain and liver toxicities.

The toxic chemistry of bleaching creams

Many toxic chemicals are added to lightening creams, many of which are banned in the US. Some companies do not list these chemicals on their ingredient lists. The most common toxic chemicals added to bleaching creams are mercury, arsenic, and lead.

Skin lightening of dark skin is a harmful practice that is detrimental to your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. The pigment in your skin that gives it color is protective and critical to keeping your skin healthy. Products used to lighten or bleach the skin can be physically harmful to your skin and internal organs, and may even lead to death. Do not bleach your skin.

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