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Is a Bleaching Cream the Best Solution for Hyperpigmentation Problems?

Updated on February 1, 2011

A skin bleaching cream can be used to visibly reduce the appearance of: sun damage, age spots, freckles, acne marks, old scars, birthmarks, melasma and uneven skin tones.

Skin color comes from a natural pigment called melanin. Hyperpigmentation appears when an excess of melanin is produced. It is a common condition that makes some skin areas darker than others. It can affect people of any race, but people with darker skin tones are more prone to it.

Some forms of hyperpigmentation are freckles, melasma (also known as chloasma), and age or liver spots. Age or liver spots are the most common form of hyperpigmentation. They are small dark spots caused by chronic sun exposure. This is why they tend to appear in the face and back of the hands during middle age and keep increasing. Melasma are larger dark spots usually caused by hormonal changes. They are very common in pregnant women.

Factors Causing Hyperpigmentation

  • Sun damage
  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes, such as the ones produced by birth control pills, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Skin diseases and skin injuries, such as acne or burns.
  • Medication. Some medicines containing minocycline, bleomycin, amiodarone, tetracycline, chloroquine, cyclophosphamide, or quinacrine produce hyperpigmentation as a side effect.
  • Diseases. Hyperpigmentation can also be a symptom of some diseases such as Addison's disease, Scleroderma, or Porphyria, among others.

Why a Skin Bleaching Cream can be the Solution?

A skin bleaching cream works in two different ways:

  1. Absorbing the UV rays preventing the sun from darkening your skin

  2. Reducing the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin darkening

Most of the skin bleaching creams contain ingredients that can reduce the amount of melanin production by inhibiting tyrosinase, a key enzyme to melanin synthesis.

A skin bleaching cream is not a product you should buy in a rush. You need to choose wisely and carefully, because some skin bleaching creams may contain ingredients with serious side effects. The first thing to do before buying a skin bleaching cream is to check the ingredients it contains. This will allow you to discard the creams that contain chemicals that can be harmful or that are banned.

Lest's Take a Look at Some Bleaching Cream Ingredients

  • Hydroquinone. Very effective but also potentially harmful. Skin bleaching creams containing hydroquinone are banned in Europe but available in USA (concentrations of 2% over the counter and higher by prescription). Hydroquinone is very effective in reducing hyperpigmentation. It works by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, thereby preventing the production of melanin. Usually hydroquinine treatments requires several weeks before any significant improvement in the hyperpigmentation (up to six months). Most dermatologists recommend 4% hydroquinone products, only available by prescription. Hydroquinone with up to 2% concentration is available over-the-counter. It has some potential side effects, such as irritation, allergy, and nail discoloration.
  • Arbutin. It is a natural and safe alternative to hydroquinone extracted from some berry plants. It seems to whiten skin very effectively with no dangerous side effects.
  • Kojic Acid. It is another natural ingredient widely used in skin bleaching creams. It is obtained from a type of fungi or as by product in the fermentation of rice when making sake. Besides inhibit melanin production, it has antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
  • Azelaic Acid is a component of grains, such as rye, barely, and wheat. Besides being used to treat hyperpigmentation, it is also effective against acne. It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and will protect against free radicals too
  • Glabridin (also known as licorice extract) inhibits melanin production by inhibiting tyrosinase activity. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. However, at the time of this writing, there are no clinical studies as to how glabridin compares to the more established skin lighteners or what its optimal concentrations may be.
  • Retinoids reduce hyperpigmentation by accelerating cellular turnover and increasing epidermal exfoliation, which leads to a greater loss of epidermal melanin. Retinoids may also reduce melanin synthesis because when speeding up exfoliation melanin has less time to be produced.
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (i.e.glycolic acid) speeds up the turnover of epidermal cells and accelerates exfoliation, causing more melanin to be removed.

Where to Find The Best Skin Bleaching Creams

Some ingredients used in cosmetics are classified as drugs because they are used to treat specific medical conditions. Some examples are: hydroquinone, oxidizing agents, and hormonal preparations or steroids. Products containing these ingredients should be only used if a doctor recommends them.

If this is not your case, you better look for a skin bleaching cream containing natural ingredients (kojic acid, licorice extract, berries, lemon juice extract,…). Always choose a trusted and certified brand.


Some Things You Should Avoid

Some dangerous skin bleaching creams are imported from African and Asian countries, where they are extensively used. However, these countries do not have the same legal regulations that countries like the United States or Europe applied rigorously.

Mercury is one of the most dangerous ingredients found in these imported products. Its use in skin care creams is illegal and banned in the United States, but you can find in the market many skin bleaching creams containing mercury.

Topical steroids are also found in some imported skin bleaching creams. The use of topical steroids may be supervised by a doctor. Using them without medical supervision can cause serious side effects like infection, stretch marks, and the thinning of the treated skin.

Hydroquinone was in the past the basic ingredient for skin bleaching creams. It was considered an effective and safe treatment. Recent research suggests that the long term use of hydroquinone can cause serious side effects. Its use should be supervised by a professional.

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