Is whitening cream safe?

Whitening Creams

What are whitening creams?  

It's a healthy question to ask and there's a lot of conflicting information out there, so let's dig in and help sort it out.

The first thing to understand is that whitening cream simply refers to any cream that has the capability of lightening the skin by as much as 5-8 shades. This means that it can work as a facial and bleach your skin—hence its name.

When it comes to skincare, a lot of people are looking for a quick fix remedy for their skin. For a better skin tone, they turn to skin whitening creams.

Whitening creams are products that are used to lighten the skin colour on the face. They are normally applied on the face at bedtime and are used for a couple of months. As they contain high levels of hydroquinone, they cause an improvement in skin tone and texture of the skin as claimed by different brands. However, the latest products also include several other key ingredients that can help to protect your skin against ageing.

Hydroquinone is used to lighten the dark patches of skin including hyperpigmentation, liver spots, age spots, freckles, melasma, etc. These issues can be caused by various internal and external factors. Hydroquinone works by blocking the pores in the skin that leads to discolouration.

However, bleaching agents like hydroquinone can be very harmful. It’s important to read the label and follow the directions carefully—which will vary depending on use, type of cream, etc.

Before using hydroquinone, disclose all your allergy and sensitivity issues to your doctor or dermatologist or pharmacist. Tell your healthcare professional regarding your medical history, especially of asthma and other skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. This product may contain inactive ingredients like sulfites, which can cause allergic reactions.

How to Use Whitening Creams?

Your dermatologist will help you understand the steps involved in using whitening cream.

You will most probably be advised to:

  1. Use the minimum amount, once or twice a day, on the problematic areas of the skin only.
  1. Avoid getting the cream on the surrounding skin or in your eyes, mouth and nose.
  1. Apply the cream with a cotton bud or lotion applicator. If you are using your hands, make sure they are clean.
  1. Avoid touching the treated area against another person’s skin for atleast a few hours after applying the cream.
  1. Use sunscreen to protect your skin from the sunlight. Your dermatologist may recommend stopping the treatment after 3 months.

So, is it Safe to Use Whitening Creams?

Many dermatologists and skin experts advise people to avoid using any creams or gels that are not prescribed by a skin specialist for skin whitening. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and it works as a shield against germs and infection. So, making any unnatural changes to our skin can lead to harmful side effects.

With products claiming to lighten your skin tone flooding the market, it's easy to see why people are asking if they're safe to use.

The term "whitening" is frequently used in Asia to describe a cosmetic product that temporarily lightens the skin tone. Some creams may contain ingredients that are banned for use in cosmetics in many countries, according to the FDA. Currently, only one prescription product, which contains 4% hydroquinone along with two additional active ingredients, has been approved by the FDA.

Possible side effects of using whitening creams include:

  1. Redness and swelling
  2. Skin irritation and inflammation
  3. A burning sensation
  4. Itchy and flaky skin

Other possible harmful side effects of skin-lightening creams containing hydroquinone, corticosteroids or mercury include:

  1. Too dark or too light skin
  2. Thinning of the skin
  3. Visible blood vessels in the skin
  4. Scarring
  5. Kidney, liver or nerve damage
  6. Skin cancer and abnormalities

The FDA does not consider OTC whitening creams safe or effective. Products marketed as natural skin bleaching aids are not regulated by the FDA. Most of these products are not recommended for darker skin tones and could cause hyperpigmentation. Skin lightening treatments are also not recommended for use by children or people who are pregnant or nursing.

Injectable skin lightening products are available but again, the FDA does not recommend them. There is not enough evidence that can prove the efficacy of these products and there may be health risks associated with them that cannot be ignored. 

Take Away

Since whitening creams are cosmetic products, it requires approval from the FDA, which takes the stance that it’s not safe to use these creams without consulting a dermatologist.

Some DIY skin whitening remedies that include lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide claim to be effective but they can do more harm than good. As with other skin whitening techniques, some natural ingredients are recommended for reducing fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, etc that are effective and safe to use. These ingredients include multani mitti, niacinamide, turmeric extract, cocoa butter and vitamin c.

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