Skin whitening has been popular in Asia for centuries. Caucasians and people of color also appreciate skin whitening products for conditions, such as uneven skin tone, freckles and age spots. Be cautious, however, when using soaps manufactured abroad. Mercury, which has been a banned substance in the United States since 1990, is a common ingredient in soaps produced in Asia. Products containing mercury can be dangerous. Safe and effective soaps are available; just review the ingredients.


Ingredients

Several types of skin whitening soaps are available, including those with plant-based alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic, lactic and citric acids. The soap or cleanser can lighten your complexion by causing the top layer of skin to peel revealing new skin. Over time new skin should be clearer with improvements in skin tone.

Kojic acid is a by-product of the Japanese wine, sake. Kojic acid by itself or in combination with hydroquinone is highly effective in inhibiting melanin production (dark pigment).

Azelaic acid come from grains. In a 20 percent form, it is especially beneficial for treating acne and reducing melanin production. Vitamin C in ascorbic form also inhibits the production of melanin. It can be unstable and must be kept in a dark container to avoid losing strength.

The most powerful type of whitening products contain hydroquinone. In the United States over-the-counter products containing hydroquinone cannot contain more than 2 percent while prescription strength can contain up to 4 percent. Prescription strength hydroquinone usually is prescribed as a cream to use after cleansing the skin. All aforementioned products work even better and faster if hydroquinone is also added as another skin care step.

Be aware that there is some controversy regarding hydroquinone. Some countries have banned its use due to evidence that hydroquinone may act as a carcinogen or cancer-causing chemical in rats, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is no evidence that this applies to humans.


Uses and Safety

Whitening your skin is similar to tanning your skin. Both take time and both wear off without constant maintenance. It can take weeks or even months to achieve the result you desire.

It is safest to purchase soap made in the United States or Europe. Many whitening soaps that come from China may contain ingredients that are not as closely monitored. Often directions will be in Chinese with no English translation.

If you have sensitive skin or acne, whitening soap can cause further irritation. Do not expect results quickly. It will take time and consistent use for skin lightening soaps to work.

Always wear sunscreen. UV rays can cause scarring and hyperpigmentation to lightened skin.