Skin bleaching 101 - the do's and don't

What Is Skin Bleaching?

Skin bleaching is a cosmetic and medical treatment to reduce the prominence of skin discolorations and even out the colour of the skin. Some people apply skin lightener to their entire body to change their complexion, but this has its risks.

The cosmetic use of bleaching products is very common practice in many people originating across sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world such as Asia where “brighter” skin is sometimes seen as desirable in some social groups. Skin bleaching can be for medical purposes and is recommended by dermatologists in patients with skin discolorations and other disorders and treatment is carried out under supervision of the healthcare professional. The two major agents used in bleaching are hydroquinone creams and glutathione orally.

Skin bleaching can be dangerous if carried out without medical advice and for cosmetic skin lightening and can lead to short term effects such as sun burns, irritation and allergic reactions. Longer term, skin bleaching can increase the chance of developing more serious conditions such as skin cancers.

Before using any skin lightening or bleaching agents, it is important to get medical advice. It is also important to avoid skin lightening products during pregnancy, breast feeding as well as in cases of skin and other allergies.

How skin bleaching products actually work

The two most popular active ingredients in bleaching and skin whitening preparations are glutathione and hydroquinone. Skin lightening products also known as bleaching creams, whiteners, skin brighteners, or fading creams work by reducing a pigment called melanin in the skin. The mechanism by which glutathione lightens the skin is less well known.

Potential side effects of using bleaching agents

If you are considering using bleaching or skin lightening agents, it is important to understand the risks associated with this type of treatment and to consult a healthcare professional to discuss the risks and benefits.

You should be careful using this product:

  • if you are pregnant or are breast-feeding or planning to become pregnant
  • if you are taking any prescription or non-prescription medicine, herbal preparation, or dietary supplement
  • if you have allergies to medicines, foods, or other substances


Important safety information when using products containing hydroquinone:

Protect your skin from the sun during and after the use of hydroquinone cream.

  • PREGNANCY and BREAST-FEEDING: If you become pregnant, discuss with your doctor the benefits and risks of using hydroquinone cream during pregnancy. If you are or will be breast-feeding while you are using hydroquinone cream, check with your doctor or pharmacist to discuss the risks to your baby.
  • Limit sun exposure, use a sunscreen, and wear protective clothing to cover the treated areas.
  • Hydroquinone cream is for external use only. Avoid getting hydroquinone cream in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or on your lips.
  • Do not use on irritated or injured skin.
  • Do not use with products that contain hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide. This may cause a dark staining of your skin.
  • Do not use hydroquinone cream with other medicines containing resorcinol, phenol, or salicylic acid unless otherwise directed by your doctor.
  • Some of these products contain sulphites, which can cause allergic reactions in certain individuals (e.g., asthma patients). If you have previously had allergic reactions to sulphites, contact your pharmacist to determine if the product you are taking contains sulphites.
  • Hydroquinone cream is not recommended for use in CHILDREN younger than 12 years of age. Safety and effectiveness in this age group have not been confirmed.
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