Dangers of Skin Lightening Creams
People use over-the-counter skin-lightening creams for all sorts of reasons: to vanish freckles, combat dark spots left by scarring, fade pregnancy-related melasma spots, even skin tones, and enhance fair skin. Those who buy these creams and skin products generally don’t think twice before using them because they’re commercially available without prescription and accompanied by a negligible amount of instructions and warnings. But a closer look at the ingredients of these seemingly harmless creams reveals chemicals that have dermatologists shocked and the FDA considering heavy reform in the skin care market.
Mercury - This heavy metal was used for over a millennia in cosmetic pursuits, most notably by the pallor-loving Victorian English dynasties of the 1800’s, which was all fine and good until 20th century science proved it was a potent poison easily absorbed through the skin. Fast forward to May of 2010 when the Chicago Tribune sent fifty different brands of skin-lightening products for testing. The labs found that five products had over six times the legal limit of mercury content.
In a country where all products that contain mercury levels above 1 part per million is banned, one would hope products containing high levels of mercury would never make it to consumers, but this isn’t the case. On the matter of the FDA’s capability to inspect all products before they hit the market FDA spokesman Ira Allen has said, “It is likely that things get past us.” As of April, 2012 the FDA has put out a warning that skin-lightening products may contain mercury, advising consumers not to use products that don’t list ingredients in English or has “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury” listed anywhere on the label.
Hydroquinone - This chemical is one of the most commonly utilized skin-lightening ingredients sold over the counter as well as through prescription brands like Lusta, Tri-Luma, and Epiquin Micro. Hydroquinone works by reducing the amount of melanin your skin produces; it’s intended for spot lightening treatments as opposed to large patches of skin. Hydroquinone has been banned in Europe and other countries because of the findings of one study classifying it as a “possible carcinogen.” The chemical also carries a risk of ochronosis, a condition where black patches appear on your skin, if used for extended periods of time. Despite these risks, the American Academy of Dermatology opposed a hydroquinone ban proposed by the FDA in 2006. Founding director of the academy, Dr. Susan Taylor, commented, "Hydroquinone is the gold standard for treating pigmentation disorders and has been for many years. I consider it to be very safe and effective."
Corticosteroids - This class of steroids is commonly used by dermatologists as an anti-inflammatory in treatments for conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema. The skin-lightening effects of this steroid are more of a side effect than its sole use, and it is illegal to sell corticosteroids for skin whitening purposes. Unfortunately, because corticosteroids are so effective at blanching skin, these ingredients do make it into products, and any indications of their presence are left off the label. Side effects of long term corticosteroid use may include stretch marks, thinning skin, fungal or bacterial infections, and possible links to Cushing syndrome. If you suspect that you have been using a skin lightening cream with corticosteroids, see your dermatologist for immediate diagnosis.
As evidenced by the above, even skin care products purchased without a prescription carry risk of side effects. It is important that you talk to your doctor or dermatologist before starting any skin bleaching treatment plan. If you’re interested in learning more about safe, certified skin care services, contact us to schedule a free consultation with our skin specialists in your area.
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