Basically skin whitening or bleaching is what it sounds. It's the use of chemical substances to lighten the appearance of your skin tone and even out your complexion by lessening the concentration of melanin. Many women use skin whiteners to remove age spots, acne scars, moles, and even birthmarks. (Dark spot correctors and products are also whitening creams that can contain dangerous ingredients.) However, long term use of skin whiteners can lead to increased pigmentation of the joints of fingers, toes, buttocks, and ears. The skin on your face can also become thinned. Areas surrounding your eyes could darken causing a bleached panda effect. Prolonged use can cause premature aging, increase your chances of getting skin infections, acne, and poor wound healing. There are two active ingredients commonly found in most skin whitening products: mercurous chloride and hydroquinone.
Mercurous chloride is mercury. If the product is used on large areas of skin, this can lead to mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning is known to cause psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problems. Pregnant women can also pass unhealthy amounts of mercury on to their unborn children. One study, according to WebMD, showed that at least one out of every four skin lighteners made in Asia that are sold in the US contain mercury. Be sure to always check that your product contains no mercury before use. Mercury also can be listed under ingredients on the product label as calomel, mercuric, mercurous, or mercurio.
The use of hydroquinone has been banned in all products throughout Europe, however, is still sold in the United States. Products in the US can contain up to 2% of hydroquinone if sold over the counter. With a prescription, one can obtain a product containing 4% hydroquinone. If the percentage is not listed, do not use (unless you consult with your doctor). When considering a product containing this ingredient, be sure to consult possible side effects with your physician before you begin use.
Many women still remain unaware of the possible side effects and dangers of using a whitening product. (I checked my own medicine cabinet and found that I have two products containing hydroquinone. Percentages were not listed.) Do your research as there are many helpful websites offering free information, but always remember that doctor knows best!