Dangers of Skin Lightening Creams

by Dean Anderson

skin bleaching risks

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.

Related Articles

Acne Treatment All-Stars: Epiduo vs Proactiv Solution
AngelLift DermaStrips Review
At-Home Laser Wrinkle Removal
At-Home Product Review: Dermaflage Topical Dermal Filler
Avita ReCell: Product Review
Beauty Beware: History’s 4 Most Dangerous Cosmetics
Best Facial Cleansing Cloths
Boscia Luminizing Black Mask: Product Review
Brazilian Peel Review: At-Home Skin Rejuvenation
Bremenn Research Labs Hylexin: Product Review
Choosing the Right Sunscreen for You
Clarisonic Opal Sonic Infusion System: Product Review
Cle De Peau Beaute Releasing World’s Most Expensive Skin Cream
Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse-Off Formula: Review
Dangers of Skin Lightening Creams
Derma Smart: Clothes for Dry Skin?
Dermadoctor MED e TATE: Product Review
Dr. Zein Obagi’s OZ Skin Health Review
ELASTIderm Décolletage System: Best of the Bust
Eyelash Extensions: LATISSE vs Xtreme Lashes
FDA Approves Epiduo Acne Treatment
From Lotions to Butter: Knowing Your Moisturizers
Kojic Acid and Skin Brightners Review
Levia Review: At-Home Psoriasis Treatment
Lumie Clear Review: Light Therapy for Acne
Lumixyl: Skin Brightening Breakthrough?
Macho Makeup: Top 5 Makeup Products for Men
Microskin Technology Offers Hope for Rosacea, Vitiligo Sufferers
Neem Oil: Nixing Oily Skin & Acne
New TRIA Blue Light Device Targets Acne
Newa Review: At-Home Skin Rejuvenation and Wrinkle Treatment
No7 Protect and Perfect: The Secret to Skin Perfection?
NuFACE Review: At-Home Electronic Skin Rejuvenator
PaloVia Review: FDA Approves At Home Wrinkle Removal Laser
Philosophy The Microdelivery Peel Pads: Product Review
Product Review: Biore Ultra Deep Cleansing Pore Strips
Product Review: DDF Revolve 400x Micro-Polishing System
Review: HylaSponge System from 3Rx Skin Therapy
Revitol Cellulite Solution Review
Review: Claro IPL Acne Clearing Device
Review: Proactiv Dark Spot Corrector
Rodan & Fields Anti-Age AMP MD: Product Review
Sephora Collection Extractor With Lance: Product Review
St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse: Product Review
Stretch Mark Cream Review: Strivectin-SD
Tanda Skin Rejuvenation Review: At-Home Systems Earns FDA Approval
10 Best Skincare Products Under $10
Top 5 Non-Surgical Facelift Creams
Top 5 Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments
Top 5 Pore Reducing Products
Top 5 Stretch Mark Removal Creams
Top 10 Acne Treatments of 2009
Top 10 Cosmetic Products for 2010
Top 10 Home Beauty Devices for 2011
Top 10 Makeup Removers
Top Ten Male Skin Care Products
Top 10 Organic Skin Care Product Lines
Top 10 Self Tanning Products
Top 10 Vegan Skin Care Products
Tri-Luma® Cream for Melasma
TRIA: Is At-Home Laser Hair Removal Right for Me?
The Truth About Stretch Mark Creams
The Truth About Tan Jabs
What Is Your Make-up Doing to Your Skin?: Choosing the Best Cosmetics