Risks of Skin Lighteners
One of the most significant risks of using some skin lighteners is the potential exposure to mercury. One study found that nearly 1 out of every 4 skin lighteners made in Asia and sold in the U.S. contained mercury.
There are other potential risks of skin lighteners. Those risks can include the following:
- Prolonged use can contribute to premature aging of skin.
- Long-term use may increase the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure. Always use sunscreen when using a skin lightener and going out in the sun.
- Steroids in some skin lighteners may increase risk for skin infections, skin thinning, acne, and poor wound healing.
- Applying steroids to large areas of skin may put you at risk for health problems related to steroid being absorbed by the body.
- Hydroquinone may cause unwanted and untreatable skin discoloration.
- Various bleaching agents, including natural ingredients, can cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.
Special Precautions When Using a Skin Lightener
- Talk to your doctor before using a skin lightener and ask for specific instructions for the product.
- Make sure there is no mercury in the product. Mercury is sometimes listed under other names, such as calomel, mercuric, mercurous, or mercurio.
- Make sure an over-the-counter skin lightener with hydroquinone has no more than 2% of that chemical.
- If a label lists hydroquinone but doesn't say how much it contains, don't assume it's safe to use. Some foreign products contain more hydroquinone than is allowed in the U.S. and some labels may not be accurate.
If you have any questions about a product you are considering, talk with your doctor or pharmacist to be certain it's safe. Your dermatologist may also recommend other treatment options, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and laser treatments.