Skin bleaching is used to treat discoloration of the skin, without changing skin color. The bleaching process refers to removal of freckles, skin aging spots, scarring, or uneven skin tone. Some of the causes of skin discoloration are sun damage, hormonal changes, aging, and genetics. Skin bleaching creams are not as invasive as laser surgery, and should be the first step to treating skin discoloration or undesired spots. Improving skin texture, and having a smoother skin tone, are both possible through skin bleaching creams. Creams used for skin bleaching can be purchased in stores or online, and the process can be done at home. Creams that alter skin pigmentation can have ingredients that are not compatible with every skin tone, and can have side effects. Hydroquinone and mercury are main ingredients found in skin bleaching creams, and are considered toxic chemicals. These chemical compounds can cause side effects, and should only be used as directed.
Main Hydroquinone Side Effects
Hydroquinone is the only skin bleaching chemical recognized by the FDA. Skin bleaching creams may have different percentages of Hydroquinone in their compound, but any skin bleaching cream with over 2% may cause side effects. The most common side effect of skin bleaching is skin irritation and a burning sensation. The itching or stinging of the skin should be mild and temporary, with some reddening of skin where cream is applied.
Allergic Reaction to Skin Bleach
Allergic reactions can occur from skin bleaching, and would result in severe burning or itching of the skin. Unlike mild skin irritation expected with application, the pain would be severe and intolerable. Crusting on the skin could appear, as well as swelling of areas where skin bleach has been applied. Allergic contact dermatitis is the medical term used to describe allergic reactions to material in contact with skin. (See Resources.) The allergic reaction would warrant stopping the use of skin bleaching creams immediately, and seeking medical attention if reaction is severe. With allergic contact dermatitis, the allergy should settle down a few days after skin is no longer in contact with skin bleach cream.
Mercury Side Effects
Skin bleaching creams containing mercury should not be used for long periods of time. Mercury can cause poisoning, and mercury in creams can start accumulating in the cells of the body. Too much mercury exposure, or poisoning, can lead to liver damage and kidney failure.
Sun Ray Exposure
Skin bleaching creams take time for full effects and to see results. Hydroquinone and mercury cause skin to be hyper-sensitive to sun rays. Stay out of the sun after skin bleach cream is applied, or wear protective clothing and use an SPF 15+ sunscreen when outdoors. Tanning beds or any type of sun lamps should be avoided during this time.
Benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or other peroxide products should not be used with skin bleaching creams, especially when using hydroquinone. The combination of hydroquinone and peroxide can cause temporary dark staining of the skin.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Skin bleaching is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The cream can get into the mother's bloodstream and travel to the fetus.
Proper use of skin bleaching creams is extremely important, and directions should be followed carefully at all times. Skin bleaching creams should be used temporarily, for no longer than four weeks. Large skin areas, such as the entire face, should not be bleached at once due to the possibility of skin discoloration. Bleaching cream should be applied only to spots that need to be removed or lightened.