Skin bleaching refers to the use of products to lighten dark areas of the skin or achieve an overall lighter complexion. These products include bleaching creams, soaps, and pills, as well as professional treatments like chemical peels and laser therapy.
There is no health benefit to skin bleaching. Results aren’t guaranteed and there’s evidence that skin lightening can result in serious side effects and complications. Despite these facts, A 2005 survey published in the International Journal of Dermatology revealed that 92% of Nigerian men and women attending the skin clinic had reported using skin lightening creams over long periods to lighten and even out skin tone, or to improve the appearance of skin prior to an important event. From a medical standpoint, there’s no need to lighten the skin. But if you’re considering skin bleaching, it’s important to understand the risks.
How skin bleaching works
Skin bleaching reduces the concentration or production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment produced by cells called melanocytes. The amount of melanin in your skin is mostly determined by genetics. People with dark skin have more melanin. Hormones, sunlight, and certain chemicals also affect melanin production.
When you apply a skin bleaching product to the skin, such as hydroquinone, it decreases the number of melanocytes in your skin. This can result in lighter skin and a more even appearance to the skin.
What Happens When You Stop Using Bleaching Cream?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that you will get back to your original color when you stop bleaching. It might give you dark knuckles and burns if you start using another product immediately after you stopped bleaching. But there is a way you can actually stop it without having dark knuckles, and that is using nothing on your skin for 1 to 2 weeks before using another cream on your skin. Users complained of skin dryness, rough and dead skin patches in some part of their body for 4–5 days before the skin gets back to normal.
According to Yaba Blay, PhD, one of the world’s leading voices on colorism, skin bleaching tends to focus almost solely on the individuals who bleach their skin, and not the global institutions that make skin bleaching a viable option. According to her, “My family is from Ghana. I grew up in New Orleans. I’ve always been acutely aware of colorism and how it functions. My maternal aunt passed away in her late 50s unexpectedly. Doctors said it was dementia, and I suspect it was because most of her adult life she bleached her skin. I wanted to investigate what the connection was between skin-bleaching products and health and I wanted to know the implications and impact it had on people.
“Our skin is dark for a reason, especially if you live in Africa. We need melanin to protect us from the sun’s rage. When you use a chemical and ask your body to stop making the melanin, there are health implications. Your body can’t be protected. In West Africa, we’re seeing pathologies that aren’t ours, like skin cancer. Historically, skin cancer is not as common within Black people because of our melanin. When we stop making melanin, we start suffering from skin cancer.” That said, all skin types and tones can get skin cancer, irrespective of melanin or bleaching and therefore everyone should get skin checks as part of annual health visits.
Side Effects of Skin Bleaching
Skin bleaching has been associated with a number of adverse health effects, most contemporary skin-bleaching creams contain ingredients that inhibit the production of melanin, a body chemical that darkens skin. One of such ingredients is hydroquinone, a depigmenting agent that lightens skin. But WHO warns that hydroquinone’s side effects include dermatitis (skin irritation), blue-black discoloration and even blindness. The side effects of skin bleaching include;
Mercury poisoning: Some skin bleaching creams made overseas have been linked to mercury toxicity. Mercury has been banned as an ingredient in skin lightening products in the United States, but products made in other countries still contain mercury.
Dermatitis: Case studies and reports have linked the use of skin bleaching products to contact dermatitis. This is inflammation of the skin caused by contact with certain substances.
Exogenous ochronosis: Exogenous ochronosis (EO) is a skin disorder that causes blue-black pigmentation. It usually occurs as a complication of long-term use of skin bleaching creams that contain hydroquinone. People who use it on large areas of the body or on the entire body are more likely to develop EO.
Steroid acne: Skin bleaching creams that contain corticosteroids can cause steroid acne. Steroid acne mostly affects the chest, but can also show up on the back, arms, and other parts of the body with long-term use of corticosteroids.
Nephrotic syndrome: This is a kidney disorder often caused by damage to the blood vessels in your kidneys responsible for filtering waste and excess water. It causes your body to excrete too much protein in your urine. Skin lightening creams containing mercury have been associated with nephrotic syndrome. ALSO READ : What Happens When You Stop Using Hydroquinone Cream