Whenever I travel to the United States and parts of Europe, I don't notice such a fascination with lighter skin among females.
However, on my trips to China and Thailand, I do notice that many women sport pale complexions.
While In China and Thailand, I ventured into a couple drugstores and supermarkets and I can tell you that skin whitening treatments abound.
Even though these treatments are applied topically, they are not without risks. As with any new product, be sure to read the label and investigate any skin whitening product before you buy.
What Determines Skin Color?
The color of one's skin is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment produced by specialized cells called melanocytes. Darker skinned people have more melanin.
The amount of melanin in your skin is predominantly a matter of your genetics. Hormones, exposure to certain chemicals and sunlight can also affect melanin production.
Changes in complexion are often temporary and eventually the skin will revert to its normal complexion. For example, a tan will start fading when the skin's exposure to sunlight is lessened.
But as time goes on, certain discolorations such as "age" spots or "liver" spots become permanent.
What Are Skin Whitening Treatments?
People use over-the-counter and prescription skin whitening products for a variety of reasons. Some use them to treat skin problems such as age spots, acne scars or to even out skin tone.
These treatments are also applied over the entire body to lighten naturally dark skin. Using such products over one's entire body can be a risky affair.
One ingredient that makes this practice potentially harmful is mercury, an active ingredient in many skin lighteners. Using lightening products can lead to mercury poisoning.
Mercury is a known inhibitor of melatonin but mercury toxicity can cause serious psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problems. Pregnant women who use skin lighteners with mercury can pass the mercury onto their unborn children.
The use of mercury as an ingredient in skin brighteners sold in the U.S. is banned. However, some bootlegger creams sold in the U.S and skin lighteners produced outside the U.S. continue to contain mercury.
How Do Skin Brighteners Work?
Skin whitening products contain a combination of ingredients that reduces the amount of melanin production wherever on the body it is applied. The most popularly used ingredient in skin whiteners sold in the U.S. market is hydroquinone.
How safe this ingredient is debatable.
It has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice. Actually, in Europe, the use of this ingredient in cosmetic products has been banned since 2001.
In the U.S., the FDA regulates the cosmetic industry more loosely. So hydroquinone is used in over-the-counter skin lighteners. Those products however can only contain a maximum of 2% hydroquinone.
In order to use a cream that contains more than 2% -4% hydroquinone, a prescription from a dermatologists would be needed.
Some skin brighteners use drugs such as steroids and retinoic acid, which come from vitamin A. Other products use natural ingredients such as kojic acid, a compound that comes from a fungus and arbutin, a compound found in various plants.
Risks of Skin Lighteners
I previously touched on some of the health risks the mercury in skin brighteners pose. A study conducted by the Chicago Tribune reinforced the need for consumers to be vigilant about the creams they buy.
The Chicago Tribune analyzed 50 skin-lightening treatments and found five made in Asian countries that were high in mercury and sold in the Chicago.
The EPA reported similar findings in imported skin whitening treatments sold in California, New York and Virginia.
Overall, they are potential risks to using skin brighteners. Some of these risks include:
=> Premature skin aging after prolonged use.
=> Increased risks of skin cancer from sun exposure. If you are going to be out in the sun for a prolonged period of time, you may want to use a sunscreen that is not absorbed into the skin.
For health reasons, you may not want to use sunscreen daily.
=> Increased risk of acne, skin infections and thinning of the skin due to the presence of steroids in some of these products.
=> The presence of hydroquinone in these creams can cause unwanted and untreatable discoloration of the skin.
=> Some bleaching agents, including natural ingredients, can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
Safety Precautions When Using Whitening Creams
=> Have a chat with your dermatologist or pharmacist before using these types of creams. Get his/her opinion as to whether or not these creams are safe.
It is quite possible
By Rose T. Kelly