In recent years, the beauty industry has seen a surge in the popularity of skin-bleaching products, driven by a societal emphasis on lighter skin tones. While some individuals may turn to these products with the hope of achieving a perceived standard of beauty, it is essential to shed light on the dangers associated with skin bleaching. Beyond the quest for aesthetic ideals, the use of skin-bleaching agents poses serious risks to both personal health and broader societal well-being.
The psychological effects of bleaching cannot be overstated. From lack of self-esteem to the idea that lighter skin makes one more beautiful. Between colourism and lack of confidence, women are buying into the skin-bleaching industry at an alarming rate.
However, do we really know what goes into those products? Due to the stigma surrounding bleaching, companies have become more clever with the language they use and instead, tend to use less problematic words like lightening and brightening but the devastating effects remain the same.
So what exactly is in bleaching creams and how does it work? Well, when bleaching one’s skin, the goal is to reduce the amount of melanin deposited within the top layers of the skin. Melanin is the product that gives skin and hair its dark colour. Reducing its quantity in the skin will make it less dark, whether it’s in scar tissue or all over the body.
The degree of whitening depends on the amount of melanin that is removed from the skin. There are various methods used to achieve this, and different skin-bleaching agents might contain ingredients that use one or more of these methods.
According to skin bleaching manufacturer Skintrium, these include:
Inhibiting the Activity of an Enzyme Known as Tyrosinase
Melanin is produced within cells known as melanocytes. It is a complex protein made by using an amino acid known as tyrosine and then converting it through a series of steps into melanin. During this process, an enzyme known as tyrosinase is needed to convert this amino acid. There are some products that reduce the formation or effectiveness of this enzyme, which means that the amount of melanin formation will be reduced as well. In addition to that, there are some biological agents which modify the expression of the gene that is responsible for the manufacturing of tyrosinase, which has the same effect. The bleaching agents which depend on the inhibition of this enzyme are very effective.
Preventing Melanin from Being Deposited onto the Skin
In order to make the skin dark and protect it from UV radiation, the melanin formed has to be transported to the upper layers of the skin. All the particles of melanin are then arranged in order. This transfer process depends on the movement of a number of cells and also expends energy. Some bleaching agents act to prevent this from happening. This means that while the melanin is formed, it is not transported to the upper layer of the skin. This is usually a continuous process since melanin that is already in the upper layers of the skin is regularly lost when skin naturally sloughs off. If this process is inhibited, the skin will get lighter with time, since the existing melanin will be lost but not replaced.
Destruction of Melanin and Melanocytes
The pigment that darkens the skin can also be destroyed by chemical agents that can be found in some skin-bleaching products, leading to a lighter skin tone. Alternatively, the cells that produce the melanin, known as melanocytes, can also be damaged and therefore not produce any melanin. An ideal bleaching agent should not only destroy the surface melanin without affecting any other system since the melanocytes will simply increase the rate at which the melanin is formed to replace them. This is why it is common to find that skin bleaching agents which target the melanin directly also influence another part of the system, such as the transport of melanin to the surface or the production of the melanin.
What exactly is inside bleaching cream?
Every bleaching product contains two main chemicals, Hydroquinone and mercury, both are toxic. Hydroquinone is a chemical used for photo processing and hair dyes. It is also used in the rubber industry as an antioxidant. Mercury is another product often used in some cosmetic products as a bleaching agent. Incredibly toxic, it can cause the skin to go grey or blue-black, rather than lighter, and in many cases has resulted in the user suffering from mercury poisoning. Mercury is also a carcinogen.
These products both work in the short term to lighten the skin by stopping the production of melanin in the body. The more melanin you have in your body, the darker your skin. Doctors suggest that the two toxic chemicals, Hydroquinone and mercury, react with ultraviolet rays and ironically lead to more pigmentation and premature ageing.
The more this product is used, the less melanin the body produces, and this leads to an increased risk of skin cancer. Also, continued use of hydroquinone will roughen the skin, making it look like an uneven patch of colours with a patchy appearance.
Why your body needs melanin?
Melanin is a natural substance in the body that gives the iris of the eye, hair and skin its colour. Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin in the body. Melanin also acts as a kind of natural sunscreen to protect against harmful UV rays, however, it cannot prevent sunburn all on its own.
The more melanin you have in your body, the more protection you have against the sun. Melanin is deposited near the surface of the skin. It absorbs dangerous ultraviolet rays from the sun, working as a protective barrier to prevent the UV light from travelling deeper into the skin. Ultraviolet light can cause DNA damage in cells and skin cancer, so melanin is an extremely important molecule.
Bleaching completely destroys the amount of melanin in our skin making it more vulnerable and making those without it more susceptible to ailments such as skin cancer.
Natural is best
There are a variety of natural ways that one can treat hyper-pigmentation and revive dull-looking skin that do not involve any harsh chemicals. Though it takes longer and the results are gradual, it promotes overall skin health and will give you a natural-looking glow.
Before you start using home remedies, it is important to understand that taking care of your skin and protecting it is necessary. The skin becomes dull and pigmented mainly due to the accumulation of dead skin cells and damage from pollutants and harmful UV rays. Cleansing and exfoliating your skin daily will ensure that all the dirt and impurities are removed as well as dead skin cells which clog up the pores. Moisturising regularly makes sure your skin remains hydrated and sufficiently nourished. It’s also important to invest in a good quality sunscreen which will provide an extra layer of protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
- Skin Damage: Skin bleaching agents often contain harsh chemicals, such as hydroquinone and mercury, which can cause significant damage to the skin. Prolonged use may result in thinning of the skin, increased sensitivity, and a higher susceptibility to infections.
- Carcinogenic Concerns: Hydroquinone, a common ingredient in many skin-bleaching products, has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. The World Health Organization has classified it as a potential carcinogen, raising serious concerns about its long-term impact on the health of individuals who use these products.
- Pigmentation Issues: Paradoxically, the misuse of skin bleaching products can lead to a rebound effect, causing the skin to darken or develop uneven pigmentation. This creates a cycle of dependency on these products, exacerbating the risks associated with their use.
- Perpetuating Colorism: The popularity of skin bleaching perpetuates colourism, a deeply ingrained prejudice favouring lighter skin tones over darker ones. This not only fosters discrimination but also contributes to the erosion of self-esteem among individuals who do not conform to these arbitrary standards of beauty.
- Identity Crisis: Embracing one’s natural skin colour is an essential aspect of fostering self-acceptance and cultural pride. Skin bleaching, however, can lead to an identity crisis as individuals may feel compelled to conform to societal expectations at the expense of their authentic selves.
- Erosion of Cultural Diversity: The widespread use of skin-bleaching products can contribute to the homogenization of beauty standards, eroding the rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Celebrating and embracing a range of skin tones is crucial for promoting inclusivity and a positive cultural identity.
Legal and Regulatory Concerns:
- Lack of Regulation: In many regions, the sale and use of skin-bleaching products are inadequately regulated. This lack of oversight allows unscrupulous manufacturers to include harmful ingredients in their products, putting consumers at risk.
- Accessibility to Minors: The accessibility of skin-bleaching products to minors raises ethical concerns. Without proper regulations, young individuals may be exposed to the health risks associated with these products, compromising their well-being and development.
Skin bleaching poses a grave threat that goes beyond mere cosmetic concerns. The consequences of this practice are far-reaching and multi-dimensional, ranging from serious health risks to the reinforcement of harmful societal norms. Promoting natural beauty, diversity, and self-acceptance is crucial for individuals, communities, and policymakers alike. Furthermore, advocating for strict regulations to ensure the safety of cosmetic products in the market is of utmost importance. Ultimately, a healthy and inclusive society embraces the beauty found in every shade of skin.