By Dr. Josť V. A. Humphreys, M.D., FICPS

Posted: 21 August 2007

Originally Published in Health Watch News - Volume 1, Issue 7 - May 2005 Edition

Skin-lightening products are a multi billion-dollar market and great profits are derived from this market. It is important to always take the time to research the effects and dangers of skin bleaching. I believe it to be no different from breast augmentation or liposuction as you are altering the natural state of your body.

Skin lightening products usually contain chemicals that work by killing melanin. Melanin is contained in your skin and is necessary to protect your skin from the cancer-causing ultraviolet rays of the sun. Melanin functions as an endogenous antioxidant. It is responsible for the pigmentation of the skin and for hair color. It also protects our skin from sunburn, among other things.

The damage of prolonged use or abuse of the product may cause irreversible damage to your skin and it has been noted that some people won't return to their original skin color once they have used skin lighteners, or have had skin problems after discontinuing its use after a prolonged period.

Hydroquinones are a component of various topically-applied cosmaceutical skin-bleaching creams - preparations with 2% or less HQs can be sold "over-the-counter" while preparations containing 4% or more HQs generally require a physician's prescription. Although I am not privy to any information about the dangers of applying hydroquinones topically, there are some revelations about its oral use, which I am sure will spill over to topical application dangers. Among such dangers are nausea/vomiting, damage to the liver in children, delirium, tinnitus, and the inhibition of the Tyrosinase enzyme. Inhibition of Tyrosinase is aesthetically useful for the purpose of inhibiting Melanin production in persons afflicted with skin pigmentation problems. To be fair, I must say that these findings are based on excessive use of hydroquinones. Used orally in the right dosages does have some benefits.

As we said earlier if you are using a product containing this ingredient over a long period of time it will reduce the melanin in your skin and eventually you may no longer be able to produce melanin.

If your skin no longer tans when being exposed to sunlight, after using these products then most likely you are no longer able to produce melanin. This is what you don't want. Your skin tans itself to protect itself from the sun's harmful rays. It is a defense mechanism of the skin. So therefore if you have no defense, you have no protection, thus rendering you as a high risk candidate for skin cancer. Based on this my question to you is, "Would you take your shoe off and walk barefooted through thorns?"

The information contained in this column is not meant for diagnosis or treatment of any disease or disorder. If you suffer from any disorders or have symptoms that are outside of normal corporal functions, please consult with your health care provider with any questions and for information on managing your condition.