Many black women seek fairer skin but some use harsh products that can damage their skin. Some of the worst lightening products for African Americans contain caustic ingredients, such as hydroquinone, steroids and mercury. Since African-American skin usually is sensitive and has a greater tendency to discolor, such products can permanently destroy their skin. Nevertheless, there are many safe and effective ways for black women to get a fairer complexion.

Avoid products made from mercury, steroids and hydroquinone. These can disfigure African American skin. Overexposure to hydroquinone can cause ochronosis—a rare skin disorder marked by rough, patchy skin and discoloration, which is more visible and disfiguring to black skin. Steroids can suppress the immune system and cause the veins in skin to redden and become more noticeable.

Use products that are safe for black skin. Some of the best skin lighteners for black skin are arbutin, kojic acid, licorice extract and a stabilized form of Vitamin C. Unlike mercury and hydroquinone, arbutin, licorice extract, Vitamin C and kojic acid are natural ingredients that come from foods, such as rice, licorice and fruits.

Exfoliate on a regular basis. Exfoliation removes the outermost layer of skin, thereby helping to reveal new skin. Oftentimes, removing the outermost layer, which is usually composed of dead cells, brightens the overall complexion of the skin. Furthermore, because exfoliation sloughs off the skin’s outer layer, it helps skin-lightening products penetrate into the skin’s innermost layers. This means that the products will work more effectively.

Avoid the sun because the sun darkens skin. Even 20 minutes of sun exposure will tan your skin, and sabotage your skin lightening efforts. If you go outside, wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 25.

See a dermatologist if you notice any skin problems. Although skin-lightening products made with natural ingredients usually do not irritate black skin, they can if you are allergic and did not know beforehand.