There are two things you need to know about skin brightening and the many things that women will do for amazing complexion.
First, avoid the sun.
Second, steer clear of most skin brightening creams, peels and other treatments that consumers pursue in their $150 billion a year quest for great complexion. Use a natural skin brightener instead.
I’m wagering that’ll ruffle a few feathers. After all, we all like a sexy tan. And what’s wrong with traditional skin brighteners?
On the former point, sun damage is the leading cause of hyperpigmentation. That’s the technical term for the high levels of melanin responsible for skin blemishes like freckles and age spots.
And the second. Most skin brighteners sold in the United States are formulated with an active ingredient, hydroquinone, linked to elevated risk of cancer, including leukemia. Add unintended mercury exposure to the equation and it equals health risks you don’t want to take.
So does this mean you’re destined to a life of skin blemishes, including moles and damage to your skin that make you look, well, blemished?
Not at all. But it does mean you need to go into skin brightening with your eyes open, as to what it is and how it works. And that, should you pursue a skin brightener to improve your complexion, you’d best do so with a natural skin brightening product.
Why People Brighten Their Skin
Skin brightening is a term for products and techniques that lighten complexion. In doing so, skin blemishes are lightened and become less visible.
Hyperpigmentation refers to darkening skin cells, most often in a localized area. The process is triggered by high levels of melanin, produced by melanocyte skin cells in the lower levels of the epidermis. People of Asian, Mediterranean and African descent are most prone to hyperpigmentation. Especially if they spend much time in the sun.
You’ll see hyperpigmentation in several forms – it’s the leading cause of skin blemishes, which can include:
Freckles – Small spots, typically less than half a centimeter, that may fade with winter and darken in summertime.
Women should move their bra over a quarter of an inch and observe the skin that’s normally hidden from the sun. If your skin blemishes were related to ageing, you’d have these spots all over your body.
Lentigines – Also called age and liver spots, lentigines are small to medium-sized brown spots that develop with age along the face, chest, hands and body parts that see the most sun exposure.
Blotchy Skin Tone – These are areas where pigmentation is noticeably different than other parts of your body, with dark complexion in some places and light in others.
Inflammation-Related Hyperpigmentation – These dark spots develop after pimples, bug bites and related flare-ups. They’re persistent though and may linger after the inflammation has healed.
Melasma – Patchy brown spots that develop with hormone disruptions, melasma tends to appear along the cheeks, forehead and around the lips.
Avoid the Sun!
While skin blemishes have several origins, sun-damaged skin is the single leading cause of hyperpigmentation. Translation: spend much time in the sun and expect freckles, blotchy skin and age spots.
To test this theory, women should move their bra over a quarter of an inch and observe the skin that’s normally hidden from the sun. If your skin blemishes were related to ageing, you’d have these spots all over your body. Yet curiously (or maybe not), they most often develop where your skin sees the most light of day.
In fact, consider that a tan is, by definition, damaged skin. Your body produces melanin in response to sun exposure, which the skin treats as a threat. Give it enough time and sun exposure turns to blemishes, obviously, and wrinkles, but also various forms of skin cancer.
Sun avoidance is the beginning of your therapy to reduce dark spots and hyperpigmation. Stay out of the sun between 10AM and 4PM and cover up with long-sleeved clothes when you can’t. Use a Broad Spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 to 50. Do this and you’ll be amazed how quickly signs of hyperpigmentation go away.
Skin Brightening Options
That said, sun damage is not the only cause of dark spots and skin blemishes. And even if you’ve spent your adult life in a cave with no natural light and slathered in sun screen, it’s not impossible you’ll develop signs of hyperpigmentation regardless, thanks to birth control pills, pregnancy, hormone disruptions, injury, surgery, acne and, lest we forget, the simple process of getting older.
With this in consideration, you’ve certainly got choices in how you can brighten your skin. While some of these options can be performed at home, you’ll need to have some of the more invasive procedures done in a salon or by a dermatologist.
As well, it’s good to go into skin brightening armed with the facts. With skin brightening, you’re literally scraping away at your skin, creating a controlled wound with expectations that your skin will heal with new, blemish-free skin. It’s not for everyone, and quite frankly, you may experience similar skin-lightening benefits with less hassle achieved with a natural skin lightener.
Chemical Peels – Sometimes called derma-peeling or chemexfoliation, this is a forced wound, achieved with chemicals, that strips away your layers of skin. The process can take up to an hour and causes scaling, peeling and redness for anywhere from 3 to 14 days until the skin regenerates.
This option works best on consumers with light complexion; those with darker skin may not achieve results worth the burning and stinging that may require pain medication. In some consumers, the process can make hyperpigmentation worse, not better.
You’ll generally pay between $100 and $900 when done professionally, with multiple treatments as required.
Microdermabrasion – One of the less intrusive ways to brighten the skin, microdermabrasion involves tiny crystals placed on the target area that are removed with a diamond-tipped wand. The process mimics sandpaper against the skin (and it’s actually one of the more gentle cosmetic skin brightening procedures!)
Though microdermabrasion can remove impurities from the surface of the skin, it’s not effective against deep pigmentation and stubborn dark spots. As with chemical peels, some patients may find this treatment causes further problems with hyperpigmentation. For this you’ll pay between $90 and $250 each time it’s done.
Dermabrasion – Microdermabrasion gone wild. Dermabrasion is a medical procedure in which the top layers of skin are blasted away with a high-speed rotary brush. This technique is better at getting the deeper layers of skin than its less-invasive cousin and is an effective way to treat skin irregularities and deep acne scars, though it’s rarely done on the face.
Being an invasive procedure, your skin may be in rough shape for a good several weeks, even months, before healing occurs. Costs involved? Anywhere from $500 to over $4000. Happy scraping!
Laser Resurfacing – Zap skin blemishes away with Beam-Me-Up-Scotty laser technology or pulsed light beams performed under anesthesia to reduce acne scars, fine lines and impurities of the skin. It’s less effective for patients with ongoing acne problems or dark complexion. Don’t try this to reduce stretch marks.
Laser resurfacing for the face can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours, after which dressing is applied to the treated area and worn for up to 3 days.
You’ll generally be out of commission for 7 to 21 days with laser resurfacing (and related laser peels), with sunburn-like sensations and redness that can last up to 3 months, though you can hide it with cosmetics. The average cost of laser resurfacing is $2,300.
Here’s where you want to be careful, both for value and the nasty toxins often found within so-called skin lightening creams.
Many products claim to lighten the skin, the mechanism of action being reduced melanin produced by the melanocyte skin cells. While this process is recommended only for small areas of the body, some consumers take this to extremes, bleaching every inch of their skin (even the anus!).
At best, this practice is ineffective. At worst, it’s a road to dangerous and even potentially lethal health risks.
Let’s clarify the former point. You’ll encounter many, many skin-lightening creams proffered to American consumers. Most often they’re moisturizers. Nothing more, yet they piggy-back off clinical studies that show regular use of a moisturizer has modest skin-lightening effects that last up to 30 days.
But it’s the second point – the health risks involved with traditional skin bleaches – that should really grab your attention.
Avoid Products With Hydroquinone
One of the few effective bleaching agents, hydroquinone is a chemical compound in many skin brightening creams. Though approved in the United States, skin brighteners with hydroquinone are banned in the European Union, Canada and Japan.
Hydroquinone is currently approved by the FDA in concentrations less than 2% for OTC products. Prescription creams can legally go up to 4%. Yet clinical studies show a causal effect between hydroquinone and cancer in rats. In humans, hydroquinone is linked to a disfiguring disease called ochronosis that’s characterized by blue-ish pigments on the skin.
While defenders of hydroquinone, including the American Academy of Dermatology, point out there are no documented human cases of cancer linked to hydroquinone, remember that anything applied to the skin is absorbed into the bloodstream just as if it was eaten.
The FDA has, at times, considered an outright ban on hydroquinone in skin brighteners and stated in 2006 that it could not rule out the compound as a carcinogen. Should you use a skin bleaching product, use it only on the target area and for the shortest time possible. Or better yet, don’t use it at all.
Risk of Mercury Poisoning
If hydroquinone wasn’t enough to dissuade you from traditional skin bleaches, mercury just seal the deal.
Mercury is a toxic agent. Have no misconceptions about it – mercury can cause psychiatric, neurological and kidney problems. And organ failure, birth defects in fetuses, and in rare cases, death.
Though the FDA has taken a softer stance on hydroquinone, with mercury, the message is clear: no mercury is allowed in any skin lightening products sold in the United States.
Yet mercury still makes it to North American shores, despite the ban, often in undocumented quantities in skin brightening products manufactured in Asia. In products that document their use of mercury, it’s often passed off as calomel, mercuric, mercurous or mercurio. One study found mercury in 1 out of every 4 skin brighteners in this country.
The problem is compounded with the practice of full body bleaching, in which clients apply the product – often laced with mercury for further bleaching effects – over most if not all of their body. The more they do this, the higher their risk of all the joys associated with mercury poisoning and major health and wellness implications down the road.
In products that document their use of mercury, it’s often passed off as calomel, mercuric, mercurous or mercurio.
Stay away from products with mercury. Completely and with your entire being. Or better yet, consider a natural alternative that produces similar results with natural ingredients and nary a trace of hydroquinone or mercury in any of its hidden forms.
Natural Skin Lightening As a Safer Option
As an alternative to surgical skin lightening and common skin brightening creams, consider a natural skin lightener. That’s a generic description for products formulated with natural exfoliants and plant-derived active ingredients to stimulate skin renewal rather than scraping and forced healing.
Truth be told, scan the ingredient list of a natural skin lightener and you’ll encounter a few synthetic compounds. But they’re used for maximum efficacy, synergistically with natural skin lightening agents, including niacinamide and alpha-arbutin.
You’ll want to consider a natural skin lightener for the following reasons
They Reduce the Cause of Hyperpigmentation – Take it apart and you’ll find that hyperpigmentation and the skin blemishes that go with it are caused by the tyrosinase enzyme that tells melanocyte skin cells to produce melanin in localized spots. A natural skin brightener is designed to interrupt this process and bring melanin back to normal levels.
They Work With the Skin’s Monthly Renewal Cycle – A natural skin brightener works with the skin’s regular 28 day regeneration cycle, in which dead skin cells are sloughed away and new, healthy, and unblemished skin cells rise from below. As well, it’s a less intrusive method than chemical peels and surgery.
There’s No Worrying About Mercury or Hydroquinone – This alone makes a natural skin brightener a MUCH better option than any product with hydroquinone or you-know-what, whether it’s prescription or otherwise.
Look for a natural skin lightener with niacinamide, alpha-arbutin and beta glucan. Be sure the product is manufactured in the United States. You may not find such a product at your local pharmacy, but dig around online and you’ll find one. Alternatively, try Illuminatural 6i by Skinception.