The dangers and potential carcinogenic effects of certain skin lightening products have been well documented. Many countries are finally stepping up to stop the sale of toxic products which have been used for decades to lighten the skin of women with darker skin tones. The reason women continue to use such extreme measures to change their skin tone is often rooted in colonialism and racism. For centuries, women of colour have been told that ‘black is not beautiful’ and that the closer one’s features are to White European women, the more acceptable you are in society. This horrible myth still affects the self-esteem of women and girls around the world. It’s so heart breaking to hear stories of teenage girls who have used whitening creams (sometimes pushed on them by family) to make themselves more “attractive”. Fortunately, things are starting to change as more and more women of colour embrace the natural beauty and heritage. Part of our mission at Melariche is to continue to encourage all women to celebrate the skin they’re in.
With that said, it must be noted that there are many women of colour who continue to turn to skin lighteners, not necessarily because they want ‘white’ skin, but because they are battling severe hyper-pigmentation and dark spots from acne-scarring. But a new category of products – Skin Brighteners – have popped up promising to combat hyper-pigmentation without the dangerous and controversial effects of skin lighteners.
Before we discuss what skin brighteners actually do in comparison to lightening creams, let’s take a step back to understand why women of colour are more susceptible unsightly scarring and spotting.
What causes hyper-pigmentation?
Skin colour is determined by the amount of the pigment melanin in the skin. People with naturally dark skin, simply have more melanin by genetic predisposition. Melanin actually provides skin with protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays – equivalent to an SPF 15 sun cream. However an unwelcome over-production or accumulation may occur due to hormones, inflammation from skin damage, acne and exposure to certain chemicals leading to excessive tanning, dark blemishes, hyper pigmentation and uneven skin tones. Changes in skin colour will often resolve themselves, for instance tans fade without direct exposure to sunlight and scars fade over time, however, severe spotting can persist and become permanent.
Skin Brightening versus Skin Whitening
Skin brightening creams or serums usually contain exfoliants combined with anti-oxidants generally designed to improve dull complexions damaged by sun exposure, stress factors or environmental factors such as pollution. Exfoliation does not technically make skin “whiter” but it will make skin look more fresh, toned and smooth. Skin brighteners also help target hyper pigmentation areas by removing older skin cells affected by over production of melanin, which can minimise the appearance of dark spots and blemishes effectively making the skin appear lighter. Active ingredients often include lactic, glycolic or salicylic acid, Vitamins A and E, Vitamin C, Bromelin and Rice Bran.
Skin whiteners, lighteners, and skin bleachers are more specifically designed to whiten or “bleach” the skin by inhibiting the action of the enzyme tyrosinase which is primarily responsible for the production of the melanin pigment through the process of oxidation. Several chemicals have been shown to be effective in skin whitening, while some have proven to be toxic or have questionable safety profiles, adding to the controversy surrounding their use.
Traditionally bleaching agents like hydroquinine were added to these creams to whiten the skin because of its effectiveness in slowing the production of melanin. Research now suggests that there may be serious side effects associated with the long term use because of fears of a cancer risk and the European Union banned it from cosmetics in 2001, yet it continues to show up in bootleg creams in the developing world. Other skin whiteners contain toxic mercury.
Scientists have now found natural ingredients that can have a similar lightening effect to hydroquinone offering a safer solution to women seeking to clear dark spots. If you feel you need a stronger product than does more than exfoliate the skin, then look for lighteners that contain natural melanin inhibitors such as: Kojic acid, Bearberry extract, Mulberry extract, Alpha arbutin (from the Field Dock plant), Liquorice root extract or Indian gooseberry
The Bottom Line
While a desire for a smooth, clear healthy looking skin is understandable it is important to know exactly what you are putting on your skin and why. All skin tones are beautiful, so in our opinion there is absolutely no reason to use these products simply because you want to have a lighter skin tone. If, however, you are in search of products to tackle scarring and dark spots, then first speak to a dermatologist to understand why the spotting has occurred. If hyper-pigmentation is due to hormonal imbalance, then over the counter creams won’t resolve the actual issue. Once you decide to purchase a skin care product for hyper-pigmentation – whether a product is labelled, ‘Skin Brightener’, ‘Skin Lightener’, ‘Anti-Dark Spot’, or ‘Dark Spot Remover’ – always take a look at the active ingredients and research how the product works.
Melariche is here to help and any product stocked in our store to address hyper-pigmentation will always clearly list the product ingredients and explain how it clears dark spots.