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Walk-in Dermatology > Blog > Skin Care > Dangers of Skin Bleaching

Dangers of Skin Bleaching

Why you could be slowly killing yourself with some products

May 27, 2021

Skin bleaching is now so popular that on a global level skin lightening products now represent half the cosmetic industry, according to a recent news report from NPR. Worldwide, the market for skin lighteners last year was estimated at $8.6 billion and is projected to hit $12.3 billion in the next six years.

This highlights the demand for skin lightening products, although there is much more to the story. Skin bleaching, specifically, can lead to dangerous health issues. Board-certified dermatologists say a little enhanced self-esteem for the sake of aesthetics is not worth the risk of bleaching your skin. Let’s look at what’s at stake.

Worst case scenario, bleaching your skin increases the risk of mercury poisoning. Some bleaching creams contain mercury, which is proven to cause lung and kidney damage with prolonged exposure.

Deep-seated cultural notions of what constitutes beautiful skin are often the driving force behind the demand for bleaching products. Here’s the problem: while certain skin bleaching treatments can be used safely under the guidance of a dermatologist, many products are sold over-the-counter or online. Those that are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be dangerous, even lethal, when applied over time.

Some of the common side effects of skin bleaching:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Light sensitivity
  • Numbness
  • Neurologic symptoms, including tremors, memory loss, and irritability
  • Kidney failure
  • Lung damage
  • Greater risk of developing skin cancers

Unregulated skin bleaching treatments may contain dangerously high concentrations of hydroquinone and topical steroids. Applied together, these two compounds halt melanin production in your skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. In concentrated doses over time, these preparations can actually cause permanent discoloration of the skin, typically gray, blue and purple spotting. This is a side effect of the mercury found in most skin bleaching products. Mercury is also a known carcinogen.

A temporary fix may lead to permanent damage.

Using these products, especially from unknown sources, can cause rashes, acne, thinning skin and scars.

Some products may not even include an ingredients list, which is a red flag.

Skin bleaching preparations are designed to inhibit melanin production within your skin cells. The treatments block the formation of the enzyme tyrosine, which helps produce the amino acids of melanin. When melanin is no longer being produced naturally to replace skin cells that slough off, the result is a lighter skin tone. 

Here’s another downside: because melanin also helps protect your skin from harmful UV rays, bleaching products that stop melanin production can also put you at greater risk of developing certain skin cancers.

Although the research is inconclusive, scientists are beginning to believe that hydroquinone and mercury react with ultraviolet rays and this only triggers more pigmentation – as well as premature skin aging.

For patients with skin conditions like melasma (brown or blue-gray patches or freckle-like spots) and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a board-certified dermatologist can provide treatments that are safe and effective.

But if your main goal is to achieve certain cosmetic results, think first of your health. Before using any skincare product, find out where it comes from, how it’s made and the ingredients it contains. If that information is not readily available, don’t purchase the product. Fundamentally, most skin bleaching treatments alter your body chemistry at the cellular level. Can you be sure you’re not slowly poisoning yourself? With some cosmetic products sold online it may not be possible to determine, so why take a chance?

Let Walk-in Dermatology Take Care of You and Your Skin

If you require skin treatment fast and the stress of needing it is just making things worse, you don’t have to worry or wait. Walk-in Dermatology is here to keep you healthy. Our team of board-certified dermatologists and experienced medical staff will address your concerns and provide the necessary care for all your skin conditions, including concerns about pigmentation and how it may be possible to lighten your skin safely. You can also schedule an appointment with us online.

If you can’t make it to one of our offices, we can set up a Video Visit and even prescribe medications remotely. Contact us today (516) 621-1982.