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What are the active ingredients in skin lighteners?

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The most widely used ingredient in skin lighteners sold in the U.S. is hydroquinone. Over-the-counter skin lighteners can have up to 2%. Dermatologists can write prescriptions for lighteners with 4%-6%.

Other skin lighteners use drugs such as steroids and retinoic acid, which comes from vitamin A, as active ingredients. And some skin lighteners use natural ingredients such as kojic acid -- a compound that comes from a fungus -- and arbutin, a compound found in various plants.

Skin lighteners made outside the U.S. may use mercury, which can lead to mercury poisoning.

From: Skin Lightening Treatments WebMD Medical Reference

SOURCES:

Palomar College: "Skin Color Adaptation."

AcneNet: "Skin Color Changes: Spots May Fade With Right Treatment."

AgingSkinNet: "Age Spots."

Dermalogica: "Your Skin: What Causes Uneven Skin Tone?"

Georgia State University College of Arts and Sciences: "Researcher Investigates Reasons Behind Skin Bleaching With Dangerous Chemicals in Tanzania."

Minnesota Department of Health: Skin-Lightening Products Found to Contain Mercury" and "Stop Using Skin Lightening Products Containing Mercury: Health Alert for the General Public."

WHO: "Mercury in Skin Lightening Products."

Cleveland Clinic: "Understanding the Ingredients in Skin Care Products."

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner on March 6, 2019

SOURCES:

Palomar College: "Skin Color Adaptation."

AcneNet: "Skin Color Changes: Spots May Fade With Right Treatment."

AgingSkinNet: "Age Spots."

Dermalogica: "Your Skin: What Causes Uneven Skin Tone?"

Georgia State University College of Arts and Sciences: "Researcher Investigates Reasons Behind Skin Bleaching With Dangerous Chemicals in Tanzania."

Minnesota Department of Health: Skin-Lightening Products Found to Contain Mercury" and "Stop Using Skin Lightening Products Containing Mercury: Health Alert for the General Public."

WHO: "Mercury in Skin Lightening Products."

Cleveland Clinic: "Understanding the Ingredients in Skin Care Products."

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner on March 6, 2019

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What problems can skin lightening cause?

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