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Skin Bleaching: Is It Safe?

Medically reviewed by Sue Kua, MD · Dermatology

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Nov 15, 2022

Skin Bleaching: Is It Safe?

Many people, if not all, have skin concerns pertaining to acne or sun spots, scars, and even hyperpigmentation. Because of this, people are seeking the best skin bleaching or whitening products they can grab their hands on. But, what are the things you should know before getting started with such a regimen? This article will take you through understanding its possible effects and more. 

Skin Bleaching, Explained 

Skin bleaching refers to the use of different products to lighten dark spots to attain better skin complexion. Melasma, blemishes, and acne marks are a few of the most common reasons why people seek some kind of treatment. This involves main techniques like skin-lightening products (i.e.,  creams, lotions, oils, serums) and laser treatments.

There are also injectable skin bleaching products available as alternatives.

Some people generally call this skin bleaching as it works by minimizing melanin concentrations and/or productions in the skin. Thus, targeting to treat and heal several skin conditions, including but which are not limited to the following:

  • Dark spots 
  • Sunspots (or uneven skin tone)
  • Age spots
  • Acne marks
  • Melasma
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

However, skin bleaching can lead to adverse reactions and severe health issues. People who have dark skin tones are especially vulnerable.

What Do Bleaching Creams Contain?

The most typical kind of skin bleaching product is in a cream formulation. But they may contain different ingredients. The most common skin-lightening agents are listed below. 


This is a powerful skin lightener that you can use daily for no longer than six months. 

Every product may contain different concentrations, but normally dermatologists prescribe 2%-4% of it.   

The main risk of excessive hydroquinone use is exogenous ochronosis. As a result, sun-exposed skin and nails develop an irregular blue-black staining. Moreover, excessive, use alongside intake of certain food (i.e., fish, eggs, offal, beans), may cause side effects.

Body secretions, like urine or swear, may take on an unpleasant odor for some individuals, resulting in trimethylaminuria.  

Topical Retinoids

Tretinoin is the most common topical retinoid present in skin-lightening products. Retinoids work by thinning the outer layer of skin to allow agents to enter more easily. This also has a direct effect on melanin reduction.

However, this type of skin bleaching treatment can also bring potential harm, especially to pregnant women. Hence, it is only available through doctor’s prescription. Moreover, retinoids can also be highly irritating for some people and cause dermatitis.

Topical Corticosteroids

Topical corticosteroids also aim to lighten the areas of skin through the following processes:

  • Initial blanching through vasoconstriction
  • Slowing down skin cell turnover, thereby lowering activity and number of melanocytes (cells responsible for pigments in the body)
  • Reducing the production of precursor steroid hormone. This then reduces the production of the melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH).

But, on the flip side, strong topical steroids can result in various side effects like skin thinning and atypical fungal infections.

When people overuse, topical steroids may cause serious internal disease due to hypothyroidism. Folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles) and steroid rosacea (skin condition characterized as flushing or blushing on the face secondary to steroid intake) are side effects of steroid addiction syndrome.

Risks and Considerations of Skin Bleaching 

While skin bleaching may spark people’s interest especially when it comes to lightening skin, it also entails several risks. 

Some people report having skin irritation and dermatitis after using some skin-lightening creams. 

Other side effects include:

  • Swelling and redness
  • Burning or stinging sensation from applying the products 
  • Itchy and flaky skin 
  • Skin breakdown (with open sores and scars)
  • Skin discoloration
  • Thinning of the skin
  • The visible appearance of blood vessels in the skin
  • Kidney, liver, or even nerve damage

Several products also have steroids and steroid acne could also occur as a possible side effect. Pregnant women who also use such products may put their babies at a higher risk of developing abnormalities.

Learn more about Skin Care and Cleansing here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Sue Kua, MD


Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Nov 15, 2022

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