Asian women have gone “cray cray” over achieving porcelain white skin. To a mostly dark-skinned population, we Filipinos in particular have long perceived lighter and fairer complexion as the ultimate measurement of beauty. It has fueled the US$13 billion skin whitening industry in Asia-Pacific alone.
Skin lighteners – a.k.a. “bleaching creams”, “brighteners”, or “whiteners”–work by reducing or blocking production of the skin’s coloring pigment called melanin. Unless one is abnormally born without it, people in general have melanin in varying amounts. It can be found in our hair, iris of our eyes and in our skin. The amount of melanin each person has is dictated mainly by genetics – African Americans for example, have more melanin naturally compared to Caucasians. Other factors such as hormones, sunlight exposure, skin damage due to aging, and exposure to certain chemicals also affect the body’s production of melanin.
Hydroquinone is the most widely used ingredient in skin lightening products sold in the United States. It is a pigment-inhibiting compound heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. Over-the-counter lightening products can contain up to 2% hydroquinone while dermatologist-prescribed ones can contain between 4% up to 6% hydroquinone. Other melanin-inhibiting ingredients used in skin whitening products are kojic acid and niacinamide. Kojic acid is a vitamin C derivative, while niacinamide is derived from vitamin B3. Retinoic acid in particular works by stimulating the exfoliation of the outer skin layers that include the dark pigmented cells of the skin.
There are other potential risks that you expose yourself to in using skin lightening products:
· Increased risk of skin cancer – since sensitivity of skin to sun exposure dramatically increases with regular use of skin bleaching agents, risk of developing skin cancer also goes up
· Premature aging of skin – prolonged use of chemical-laden whitening creams can lead to deterioration of skin elasticity and early signs of aging like wrinkles, age spots, etc.
· Increased risk of skin problems – steroids that can be found in some skin lighteners can lead of higher risk of developing skin infections, as well as other problems like thinning of the skin, poor wound healing, discoloration (as with overuse of hydroquinone mentioned earlier) and acne outbreaks.
· Allergic reactions – some people may not know their sensitivities to certain ingredients found in these skin whitening products. Allergic reactions can vary from minor skin itching to narrowing of air passages.
If you really want to use a skin lightening product despite the risks mentioned above, here are some tips to consider before starting:
· Read the label – before buying anything, read the ingredients. Stay away from products that contain mercury or mention words such as “mercuric”, “mercurio”, “mercurous”, or “calomel”.
· Listen to your body – if after first few applications you notice irritation or any abnormal reactions to your body, discontinue use right away.
· Consult a dermatologist BEFORE using – your skin condition is different from everyone else’s, so to be on the safe side, visit a doctor for an assessment prior to purchasing any skin whitening product.
For the many people who believe there is always a natural way to address health and beauty problems, researchers and beauty experts have shared some tips to achieve pearlescent skin using ingredients that can be found in your kitchen or garden:
1. Yogurt – yogurt isn’t just a yummy creamy treat that is good for your tummy, it’s also great for the skin. It contains lactic acid that naturally contains bleaching properties. Best of all, since it’s safe to eat, it is also mild and suitable for any skin type.
2. Honey – another natural skin whitener famous also for its moisturizing and antibacterial properties that can help fade nasty acne scars and age spots.Honey can also exfoliate dead skin so your skin not only appears brighter, but it also looks more refreshed after.
3. Lemon – these are also great skin bleaching agents that you can try in lieu of those store-bought creams. The combination of the lemon’s acidity, antioxidants and its high amount of vitamin whitens the skin and encourages growth of new cells for younger looking complexion.
4. Aloe vera – this plant doesn’t only do wonders on hair, it can also help address hyperpigmentation, dark spots and uneven skin tone. Its gel also has a cooling effect that encourages new cells to regenerate and rebuild damaged tissue.
5. Papaya – this fruit has been used in many whitening soaps in the country. It is also often used in various beauty treatments because of itsability to lighten skin. Eat papaya as a fruit.
Your skin (and wallet) will thank you for it!