Skin lightening, skin whitening, and skin bleaching is a process for lightening skin tone using chemical substances. This method provides even skin complexion by decreasing the melanin concentration.
How is our skin colour determined?
The amount of melanin determines the colour of the skin. Melanin is a type of skin pigment that is produced by the melanocytes. Individuals with dark complexion have more melanin.
The melanin content in your skin is decided by your genetic makeup. Certain factors such as hormones, skin damage, exposure to sunlight, exposure to some chemicals may also affect the production of melanin.
The skin colour can change. For example, when direct exposure to sunlight is reduced, sun tans fade. However, over a period of time, some discolorations such as “liver” spots or “age” spots become more or less permanent.
What does Skin Bleaching mean?
Skin bleaching is a type of cosmetic procedure for diminishing skin discolorations and to even out the skin color.
Some individuals apply skin lightener to their whole body in order to change their complexion, but this may be dangerous. Since some of the skin lighteners contain mercury, so skin bleaching may result into mercury poisoning.
Mercury produces toxic effects and may give rise to neurological, psychiatric, and kidney troubles. Pregnant women who make use of skin lighteners containing mercury can pass the mercury to their unborn child, causing birth defects.
Skin Bleaching – Pre and post treatment
What are the uses of Skin whitening?
- Particular areas of abnormally high pigmentation like birthmarks and mole may be depigmented to match the skin around that area.
- On the other hand, in case of Vitiligo, unaffected skin may be whitened/lightened in order to give a more uniform look.
- If used for a long time skin whiteners may result in pigmentation increasing to joints of toes, fingers, ears, and buttocks. The facial skin may get thinned and the region surrounding the eye may have more pigmentation resulting in a ‘bleach panda effect’.
Skin Whitening – Before and after Treatment
Skin lightening treatments:
Most of the skin-whitening treatments, which can diminish or block some amount of melanin production, target inhibition of tyrosinase. Majority of treatments make use of mixtures of gels or topical lotions comprising of melanin-inhibiting ingredients along with a sunscreen, and a prescription retinoid. Based on the skin’s response to these treatments, exfoliating agents – either in the form of chemical peels or topical cosmetic agents – and lasers may be used.
Hydroquinone is thought to be the main topical component for stoppage of melanin production. Its ingredients have strong antioxidant properties.
Hydroquinone is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, such that it arrests the process of making of substance responsible for skin color. Hydroquinone lightens the skin and can only disturb the synthesis & production of melanin hyperpigmentation. Its use is banned in certain countries (like France) due to fears of a cancer risk.
Topical hydroquinone comes in 2% (available in cosmetics) to 4% (or more) concentrations (available by prescription or from a physician), alone or in combination with tretinoin 0.05% to 0.1%.
Arbutin is obtained from the leaves of cranberry, bearberry, blueberry, or mulberry shrubs, and may also be present in most type of pears. It may have melanin-inhibiting properties. Arbutin and other plant extracts are thought to be safer options to commonly used depigmenting agents in order to make the skin fairer. Arbutin exists in two isomers, alpha and beta; out of the two, alpha provides higher stability over the beta. Hence, alpha is preferred to beta for skin lightening.
Glutathione is a tripeptide molecule seen in mammals. It prevents oxidative damage to skin as it has strong antioxidant properties. Glutathione is also linked with skin lightening ability. Glutathione uses various mechanisms for exerting action as skin whitening agent at different levels of melanin production as follows:
o It prevents the synthesis of melanin.
o Its antioxidant property provides protection to skin from UV radiation and other external as well as internal stressors generating free radicals responsible for causing skin damage and hyperpigmentation.
Glutathione can be used in combination with many other agents like vitamin C to increase its absorption, N-acetyl cysteine to boost its level, and other antioxidants like vitamin E. Some oral intake of glutathione could have harmful effect when used in combination with other skin whitening agents like hydroquinone which is a cancer producing element and monobenzone which causes irreversible depigmentation.
Glutathione for skin whitening is available in soap, lotion, cream, injectable and in the form of nasal spray.
Topical application of Glutathione does not result in efficient absorption by skin cells.
The intravenous mode of administration provides direct absorption of glutathione in the systemic circulation and hence is the most preferred one.
Other components that can be used as Skin whitening agents include – kojic acid, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), azelaic acid, Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs), Niacinamide, licorice extract, etc.
Other treatment options:
A small amount of research has shown that oral supplements of ellagic acid, pomegranate extract, ferulic acid, vitamin E, can prevent production of melanin.
Ablative as well as non-ablative lasers can have an overpowering effect on melasma. However, outcomes are inconsistent. It may result in either increased or decreased pigmentation. Generally, individuals having dark complexion pose problems with Laser treatments.
The q-Switch Nd:YAG laser releases high energy light towards the affected region, thereby destroying unwanted skin cells which then permits the skin to generate new cells to replace old ones. In q-Switch mode, the laser produces 2 wavelengths; which are useful to address skin lesions. The laser penetrates the skin deeply without harming the uppermost layer of skin and stimulates production of collagen and vital proteins that are beneficial for a young and healthy skin.
Laser Treatment for removing age spots
Apart from lightening your skin tone, this laser procedure also helps to improve complexion, resulting in smoother and fairer skin.
In summary, Skin lightening or skin whitening is a cosmetic dermatological procedure which uses chemical agents for lightening the skin tone. Skin conditions such as age spots, liver spots can benefit from Skin lightening. Skin whitening may prove to be a beneficial treatment for skin disorders such as vitiligo, melasma where the functioning of skin pigment melanin is either hyperactive or impaired. Treatment options for Skin whitening include hydroquinone, glutathione injections, usage of components such as kojic acid, azelaic acid, licorice extract and Laser treatment viz. q-Switch Nd:YAG laser. Always remember, beauty of skin is not only about the skin colour, but even skin tone. Hence while going for any skin lightening and skin whitening treatment, the first and the foremost thing is to consult the best Cosmetic Dermatologist who can address all your queries and put all your concerns to rest. It is the matter of your skin after all.
Dr. Rinky Kapoor is a top/ Best dermatologist, Cosmetic Dermatologist, Laser Skin Expert Doctor, currently based in Mumbai, India. She has won many awards as the Best Dermatologist in India, Top 10 Skin Doctor in India, etc. She specializes in all skin diseases & conditions and given her training as a dermato-surgeon, provides non surgical liposuction surgery, laser lipo & lipoplasty etc for weight reduction & cellulite reduction. Dr. Rinky Kapoor is trained at the iconic National Skin Centre, Singapore and completed her Fellowship in Cosmetic Dermatology & Lasers at the world renowned Stanford University, USA.
Skin lightening and skin whitening has become most commonplace cosmetic procedures today. People with naturally dark complexions or those who have developed darker skins due to lifestyle don’t hesitate in seeking dermatological solutions for skin lightening and whitening.
The variation of skin color among individuals is primarily because of variation of melanin content in skin. Melanin production can be altered due to prolonged exposure to sunlight or due to hormonal imbalance. Skin lightening treatment may prove to be a beneficial treatment for skin disorders such as Vitiligo, Melasma where the function of skin pigmentation is either hyperactive or impaired. In some cases, chemical reactions to medications can also result in skin darkening.
Therefore, the most effective skin lightening and whitening treatments focus on melanin reduction. Popular skin lightening and skin whitening treatments include –
For Skin Whitening (best suited for conditions where melanin production is either impaired or hyperactive)
- Bleaching: This skin whitening treatment involves application of bleach frequently to contain melanin production and whiten skin.
- Hydroquinone: Topical application of antioxidant rich hydroquinone inhibits melanin production and result in skin whitening. However, this chemical is too strong and is only available at 2% concentration in cosmetics and 4% concentration on prescription.
- Glutathione: This tripeptide molecule is a strong antioxidant which inhibits melanin production. It can be used both topically in creams, lotions and soaps or administered intravenously for maximum absorption resulting in effective skin whitening.
For Skin Lightening (best suited for age related skin darkening or darkening induced by sun exposure)
- Laser Surgery: This skin lightening treatment utilizes abalative and non abalative lasers, stimulating collagen production and affecting melasma drastically.
- Chemical peels: Tretinoin based peels lead to faster skin maturity, making it easier to peel off older and darker skin. As new layer of skin comes up, desired skin lightening is achieved.
- Micro-dermabarasion: This skin lightening treatment involves gently sloughing off the surface layer of the skin using a diamond tipped wand removing dead and sun damaged skin cells.
- Cryosurgery: This skin lightening treatment is best for irregular skin darkening and dark spots. Targeted liquid nitrogen application to freeze skin lesions results in destruction of darker skin cells and replacement with lighter, new cells.
- Arbutin: This is an alternate skin lightening treatment, utilizing arbutin extracts to inhibit melanin production.
It is important to use these skin lightening and skin whitening treatments under the guidance of a trained cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist. Dr. Rinky Kapoor offers best skin lightening and skin whitening treatments in India at the Esthetic Clinic.