8 Skin Whitening Side Effects You Should Know About


Skin whitening side effects definitely should be taken into account before any use of such type of skin care products.

Unfortunately, some active ingredients might have some side effects, harming the skin or the body systems. It’s reported that 30% of long-term users suffer from adverse effects.

Thus, it’s significant to know such side effects and the way to avoid them. This article discusses the possible side effects associated with skin whitening products.

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Side effect #1 – Hyperpigmentation

Some skin whitening products may cause hyperpigmentation of the skin. In certain patients, hydroquinone may cause hyperpigmentation of skin areas where it’s applied. Accumulating pigmented substances in the skin layers, in the form of grey-brown and bluish-black spots.

It can be as a result of long-term use of hydroquinone. The reported cases affected were of dark skin tone. The majority of them were in South Africa.

Hydroquinone, as low as 2% concentration, was reported to cause such skin damage. Especially if combined with other hyper pigmenting agents such as phenol or resorcinol. Research studies showed that such hyperpigmentation has occurred when used for more than six months.

Cases reported were not that many. Only 22 patients of hydroquinone users in more than 50 years in the US. It means that such side effect is not that common to worry about. Still, some precautions should be considered to avoid such damage and be on the safe side. Long-term use of hydroquinone, more than six months should be avoided.

The optimum hydroquinone regimen for skin whitening is the topical application of the lowest concentration available of hydroquinone. Once daily, for up to 2 to 3 months, then taking a break for three months.

Meanwhile, during the break period, kojic acid, tretinoin, and glycolic products can be alternatives to achieve the preferred results. After the 3-months break, hydroquinone’s application can be continued.

However, once the preferred skin tone is achieved, hydroquinone should be stopped. Continuous application of a sunscreen with SPF 30 and zinc oxide with the avoidance of sun exposure is advised. It is necessary if you do not want to get re-darkened again.

Research studies stated that hyperpigmented spots caused by the long-term use of hydroquinone could be faded away by laser treatment. Still, it requires more than one session to treat such a problem. However, dark skin patients may not benefit much from such treatment.

Side effect #2 – Increase in the sensitivity of the skin to solar UV rays

Most topical skin products cause the skin to be more sensitive to solar rays. It causes redness, itching, and hyperpigmentation. Therefore, extra care for such sensitive skin should be considered.

For example, although tretinoin is safe, even in its maximum strength of 0.1%, its long-term use increases the skin’s sensitivity to sun UV rays. That causes more skin darkening. That’s why the application of broad-spectrum sunscreens multiple times on a daily basis with the avoidance of sun exposure is recommended.

Side effect #3 – Allergic reactions

Some skin whitening products develop allergic skin irritation including redness, skin swelling and skin rashes. Such inflammatory damage to the skin may even be pigmented later in the healing stage.

If such a reaction has occurred, stopping the product immediately is a must with seeking medical consultation. However, to avoid such a problem, adding a moisturizer when applying these products on the skin may dilute the active ingredients, decreasing the risk of developing allergic reactions.

Side effect #4 – Teratogenicity “should not be used in pregnancy”

Some skin whitening products contain active ingredients that should not be used in pregnancy as such chemicals may reach the baby, increasing the risk of abortions, system malfunctioning, and birth defects. That’s why they shouldn’t be used during pregnancy, such as hydroquinone and tretinoin.

Side effect #5 – Thinning of the skin

Topical skin whitening products may add corticosteroids in addition to the skin whitening active ingredients to reduce any redness or inflammation caused by such chemicals.

However, corticosteroids are not suitable for long-term use as they may cause skin thinning, especially around the eyes, causing more apparent dark circles “Bleach Panda Effect” and more susceptibility to physical damage as well as sun damage.

Such a problem is unfortunately permanent but applying a lactic acid cream, if not irritable, may help to lighten the area and to build more collagen and elastin in the skin.

Side effect #6 – Skin healing disruption

As a result of prolonged exposure of the skin to harsh chemicals continuously, the healing process of the skin is disrupted, losing its ability to heal injuries or infections.  Therefore, such skin conditions are becoming more difficult to heal with the regular use of skin whitening products.

Moreover, skin whitening products may worsen different skin lesions or even cause the introduction of new diseases to the skin, exacerbating acne conditions for example.

Side effect #7 – Mercury poisoning

Some skin whitening products may contain mercury or its derivatives. Mercury, even in the smallest concentration, is rapidly absorbed through the skin causing organ damage, in the form of “mercury poisoning”.

It can be in the form of local skin damage such as rashes, discoloration or scarring, or even in the form of different systems failure, damaging the liver, the kidneys, or the nervous system. It even may cause psychiatric disorders.

Side effect #8 – Cancer

There has been a lot of buzz about the carcinogenicity of skin whitening products, especially hydroquinone as it alters the normal structure of the skin. However, it’s not proved or materialized as no users, even those of long-term, reported such incidence.

In laboratory rats, the risk of cancer development has increased with the application of hydroquinone, but it is not proved to have the same problem with humans. Doctors all over the world still prescribe hydroquinone, even in high concentrations. Causing cancers is still only a theory until now.

However, Ammoniated Mercury and Mercury chloride are stated to be carcinogenic “cancer-producing substances”. That’s why it has been banned in many countries in the European Union and all over the world.

Moreover, some skin whitening products may cause stress to the body, causing headaches, insomnia, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. The risk of liver damage, adrenal dysfunction, and thyroid disorders has been increased since the regular use of skin whitening products.

Therefore, FDA recommends to read the label before buying any skin whitening product to know exactly what active ingredients are included in the product, and if there isn’t any labels or ingredient lists, most probably this product contains harmful chemicals and consumers should stop buying these.

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