The Dangers of Using Skin Lightening Products

September 29, 2022


Kalkidan Sahle

By a lot of people, a light skin tone is counted as a sign of beauty and high social status. Due to this skin lightening products (also called skin brightening, fade products, bleaching creams, or whiteners) are highly consumed. The media also promotes this product in many ways.

Skin lightening products are branded in the form of creams, lotions, soaps, or powder. They are used for various reasons.

  • To lighten skin tone
  • To remove age spots
  • To fade freckles
  • To treat uneven skin tone and acne scars
  • To whiten skin darkened by hormonal imbalances and endocrine conditions.

The way skin lightening products function is by reducing a pigment called melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment produced by specialized cells called melanocytes. It is responsible for the production of hair, eye, and skin pigmentation.

What are the ingredients of SkiN-Lightening Products?

Skin lightening products contain active ingredients like hydroquinone, mercury, steroids, retinoic acid, and kojic acid. These ingredients are harmful and bring health risks. The occurrence and severity of the health risks depend on the frequency of application, the duration of practice, and area of the body applied, and their use during pregnancy or periods of lactation.


Hydroquinone reduces the skin’s production of melanin by inhibiting melanin production which is responsible for skin color. Studies done by the FDA have shown that people who have used products with hydroquinone have suffered side effects that included rashes, facial swelling, and permanent skin discolorations. Hydroquinone has been banned in some countries due to its carcinogenic nature to reduce the risks of skin cancer.
It has been also linked to exogenous ochronosis, a disorder that makes the skin appear black and blue. This condition is caused when hydroquinone is applied over a large area of the skin or in some higher concentrations. It is hard to treat and may bring permanent discoloration of the skin.


The other product that is inside the skin lightening products is mercury. Using skin products containing mercury results elevation of mercury levels in the hair, blood, and urine. It is highly toxic and can damage the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, as well as the lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. Also can lead to mercury poisoning. It also causes pain or rashes.
It is highly advised for pregnant and women of child-bearing age to avoid mercury exposure. Unborn babies, infants, and children are very sensitive to mercury. Even when pregnant women do not show symptoms of mercury exposure, it can affect their unborn children.

The dangers of using skiN-lightening products

  • The premature aging of the skin due to repeated use
  • The increased risk of skin cancer from sun exposure out of long-term use.
  • Steroids in some skin lighteners may increase the risk for skin infections, skin thinning, acne, and poor wound healing.
  • The application of steroids to large areas of the skin increases the risk for health problems related to steroids.
  • Unwanted and permanent skin discoloration is commonly from the use of hydroquinone.
  • Bleaching agents, including natural ingredients, can cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.

If you have to use skin lightening products, follow these precaution

  • Ask for specific instructions before using a skin lightener and talk to your doctor about any concerns.
  • Before using a product make sure there is no mercury in the product. Mercury is sometimes listed under other names, such as calomel, mercuric, mercurous, or mercurio.
  • Avoid using a skin lightener with hydroquinone that has more than 2% of that chemical.
  • Before using any product, if you have any questions about it, talk with your doctor or pharmacist to be certain it is safe.

Written by Kalkidan Sahle

Kalkidan is a pharmacist and a content writer by profession. She writes blog posts, website content, and social media captions.

Blog categories

Disease And Treatment

Fitness and Healthy Diet

Medical Life

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