To understand how lightening products work, you need to know what happens in your skin. Dark spots occur when there is an overproduction of melanin in the skin. Melanin is the pigment which gives your skin its color, and over-production can occur as part of your body’s natural defense after over-exposure to the sun, as well as against injury and inflammation like acne. Hence we often see spots on our faces after we’ve spent too much time in the sun, and the skin around a wound or a scar is darker than normal.
So are all lightening products safe?
Many lightening products work by disrupting or regulating melanin production, to slow down its continued build-up. Two of the more harmful ingredients you may find are hydroquinone and mercury. Both work to stop the enzyme that leads to the production of melanin.
These ingredients work quickly to fade dark spots. But here’s the problem: long-term topical use (applying it on the skin surface) of hydroquinone may cause ochronosis — a skin condition that results in permanent skin darkening. And mercury? Anything applied topically can be absorbed into the bloodstream, and too much mercury in the blood can result in brain, kidney or gastrointestinal problems.
Are there any safe ingredients for lightening?
Yes, there are. You just need to read your labels. There are many spot-reducing ingredients that do not have harmful effects on the skin, even after prolonged usage. The ones you need to look out for? Vitamin B3+, vitamin C and activated carbon — ingredients that act to repair and strengthen skin, and reduce dark spots.
Another ingredient that’ll help with skin lightening? Microbeads in mild exfoliating cleansers. Exfoliants help to slough away dead skin cells, revealing new, fairer layers of the skin.
So let’s set the record straight: there’s no bleach in your skincare products. But there are many safe ingredients to strengthen skin and slow down the build-up of melanin in our skin.