Skin Lightening Creams: a Question of Safety

Michael Jackson may be the most famous person thought to have lightened his skin, but a whole host of celebrities has reportedly used skin lightening creams. And celebrities aren’t the only ones reaching for a handy jar of cream for bleaching skin. This beauty practice is actually quite common around the globe, in countries such as India and Africa.

There are skin conditions such as melasma, characterized by brown or gray-brown spots on the skin, that warrant the use of a skin lightening cream. However, many people use these creams to achieve what society says is a standard of beauty: lighter skin. And for that reason skin lightening is controversial. Bleaching skin poses some risks as well, especially if you’re attempting it on your own at home without the help of a doctor.

How Do Skin Lightening Creams Work?

The most effective skin lightening creams contain hydroquinone, says Bruce Katz, MD, a dermatologist and director of the Juva Skin and Laser Center in New York City. Some creams may contain kojic acid, but they’re less effective, says Dr. Katz. Others combine hydroquinone and kojic acid. You can buy them over the counter or have them prescribed by a dermatologist.

These products lighten skin by causing a chemical reaction that blocks melanocytes, the skin cells that give your skin its pigmentation, explains Katz.

A skin lightening cream is meant to be used for a maximum of two to three months, says Katz. This is enough time to lighten skin without causing any damage. If you’re diligent about staying out of the sun (which stimulates melanocytes to darken your skin) and if you avoid problems that can cause brown spots such as acne, your skin should stay lightened for good, Katz says.

Potential Risks of Skin Lightening

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