Using skin-lightening moisturizers to erase hyperpigmentation can come with its fair share of health risks. These risks are due mainly to the potent ingredients in skin-lightening products.
Hydroquinone, the main ingredient in most skin-lightening moisturizers, may lead to cancer as well as ochronosis, which further darkens the skin and causes joint problems [source: Merola]. In many Asian and European countries, hydroquinone has been banned from over-the-counter products. In the United States, however, manufacturers are allowed to use the ingredient, as long as it makes up only 2 percent or less of a formula.
Physicians may prescribe a skin-lightening moisturizer with up to 4 percent hydroquinone. But this may not be a healthy prescription. In 2006, the FDA proposed a ban of skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone. They are currently reviewing research, data and public comments on the proposal [source: Bouchez]. While some physicians agree that hydroquinone is dangerous, others argue that the ingredient is highly effective and acceptable to use [source: Janes].
In rare cases, mercury salts are also incorporated into the skin-lightening formulas, but use of products containing mercury is not often recommended. Though it can stop melanin production, mercury is also a toxic substance [source: Oakley]. Once a common ingredient in a number of products, mercury has been removed from most cosmetics over the years and is still strictly regulated. Exposure to mercury can lead to neurological complications and kidney damage [source: MedicineNet].
If you intend to use a skin-lightening product, check the ingredient list. A skin lightener with mercury or a high concentration of hydroquinone could be unsafe. A good replacement formula might contain kojic acid or a combination of retinol and botanicals [source: Janes]. If you have concerns about a particular formula or your skin condition, contact your physician for advice.
Skin-lightening moisturizers are just one of several treatments available for hyperpigmentation. To learn more about how to solve skin pigmentation problems, take a look at the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Skin of Color." 2009. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/general_skin.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Treating Acne in Skin of Color." 2008. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/article_skinofcolor.html
- Bouchez, Colette. "Anti-Aging Treatments for Your Hands." WebMD. 3/31/08. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/features/antiaging-treatments-for-your-hands
- Bruno, Karen. "Women's Skin Care for Your Face." WebMD. 8/10/09. (Accessed 9/5/09)
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- Merola, Joseph F., et al. "Exogenous ochronosis." Dermatology Online Journal 14(10). 10/08. (Accessed 9/22/09)http://dermatology.cdlib.org/1410/allarticles/articles/article06.html
- Oakley, Amanda. "Bleaching Creams." New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. 8/22/09. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://dermnetnz.org/treatments/bleach.html
- U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. "Skin -- Abnormally Dark or Light." 4/13/09. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/MEDLINEPLUS/ency/article/003242.htm
- WebMD. "Skin Conditions: Understanding Skin Care Products." 3/1/07. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/skin-care-products