Are you thinking about bleaching your skin? Skin bleaching is now a billion-dollar industry catering to the needs of those of us who want to alter our skin tone. This could be purely for beauty reasons or it may be to treat skin pigmentation disorders. Either way it’s important to have the right kind of information to understand what is possible and to approach it safely.
Firstly, What Determines Skin Color?
The color of your skin is due to a pigment called melanin. Specialized cells called melanocytes are responsible for producing this melanin pigment in your body. To put it simply, the more melanin you have, the darker your skin color will be and vice versa.
Your genes are what determine how much melanin you have in your skin. Although some other factors can also influence melanin levels to some extent. These include:
- Sunlight exposure
- Skin damage
Some changes are only temporary of course, e.g. a sun tan will fade over time as long as it is exposed to less sunlight. Other types of skin discolorations can become more permanent e.g. liver spots.
So What do We Mean By Skin Bleaching?
Skin bleaching is the reduction of skin discolorations or evening out of skin color through cosmetic treatments.
There is some confusion though, as some people consider bleaching to just mean whole body skin whitening, or only treatments provided by medically qualified professionals. Others consider it to mean any kind of lightening treatment applied to the skin, whether just on problem areas or on limited areas such as the face. Here we will discuss all kinds of treatment.
Skin Bleaching Treatments
There are several treatments commonly used by dermatologists and other professionals to bleach the skin. Each treatment comes with its advantages, disadvantages, and limitations.
Please note that it always wise to seek professional medical advice before starting any kind of skin treatment. And that many of the treatments covered below are only available from formally qualified practitioners.
So, here’s a look at some of the most popular treatments available.
Microdermabrasion is a skin lightening procedure where the skin is sprayed with micro crystals. The tiny crystals remove the dry and dead outermost skin layer. This exposes the younger and healthier looking skin underneath.
The procedure is non-invasive and non-chemical.
Who It Is For
Ideal candidates are people dealing with minor skin conditions like acne and rosacea. It is now possible to get high quality home microdermabrasion kits to treat yourself. Practice is required and care should be taken of course. It may be worth trying professional services first however (even though quite expensive) to better understand the process.
Microdermabrasion is unsuitable for:
- Deep scars
- Warts on the face
- Active keloids
- Undiagnosed lesions
- A recent outbreak of herpes
- An auto-immune system disorder
- Unstable diabetes
- Pregnant women
- Active acne (stages 3 and 4)
Benefits and Risks
This can be a good alternative to those with skin sensitive to chemicals. The exfoliation effect can give your skin that healthy fresh glow. It can also improve acne scars and other types of skin scarring.
While the process isn’t painful, some slight skin irritation could be experienced by some people.
2. Chemical Peels
Chemical peels involve the application of chemical solutions on the skin to cause it to blister and peel off. The result is the removal of dead outer layers of skin, which also stimulates the growth of new skin cells. The new skin is smooth and younger looking.
This procedure is commonly done on the hands and face, but can also be done on the whole body. It can help to:
- Treat specific acne types.
- Improve the appearance and effects of mild scars.
- Make the skin look and feel better.
- Combat the wrinkling effect of sun damage and aging on the skin.
- Reduce fine lines under the mouth and eyes.
- Reduce age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma) resulting from using birth control pills or pregnancy.
There are three types of chemical peels namely superficial, medium and deep peels.
Here the solution is left on the skin for just a few minutes. The skin cells in the top layer slough off, and the skin may feel tight for a few hours after. Regular treatments are needed to sustain the effect of the peel.
In this type of peel the chemical is applied to the skin and left for a few minutes. During application, you might feel a burning sensation. Skin is peeled from both the top and middle layers and might turn red or brown a few days after the procedure.
It takes up to six weeks for the skin to revert to normal and repeat treatments should be done every six to twelve months to sustain the effect of the peel.
With this type of peel the solution is applied and left on the skin for 30 minutes or more. One may feel a cold sensation at this juncture. A sedative or local anesthetic is used to manage the pain. Blood and heart pressure are monitored to ensure that Phenol, a component in the chemical solution used, does not have adverse effects.
This level of treatment affects the deeper layers of the skin, and some redness, peeling and general discomfort will occur after the procedure. Expect the swelling to last up to two weeks and the redness up to three months. It is a one-off treatment that doesn’t require repeat applications.
Skin infections or scarring might occur although this happens in very rare cases. If you’ve had cold sores in the past, they might return. A doctor can prescribe medication to prevent this from happening. After a chemical peel, one should avoid sunlight for several months as the resulting skin is quite sensitive to the sun.
3. Bleaching Creams
Skin bleaching (or whitening) creams are products used to reduce the melanin pigment in the skin. They work by being applied on the skin for a specified period of time to reduce production of melanin.
Some skin lightening products contain hydroquinone and/or corticosteroids. These compounds are active ingredients typically regulated by the government, and one should, therefore, consult a doctor before using products that list them.
There are now more natural whitening creams available however, which include ingredients that have been shown to be just as effective. It’s still wise to consult a doctor before beginning any treatment of course. But these products can be found easily online although I would suggest you read reviews of the products before buying as quality can vary a lot.
How to Use Them
Typical directions for use can include:
- Apply sparingly once or twice a day.
- Don’t apply around the eyes or mouth.
- Avoid areas treated with other procedures or damaged skin.
- Wash hands after application.
Side effects can include swelling, skin irritation and itchy skin. This will vary of course from person to person and with the specific ingredients used.
4. Laser Treatment
Laser treatment uses laser beams to remove the outer skin layer or damage the cells that produce melanin. A handheld laser device rests against your skin, and cool air is blown on your skin to keep it cold throughout the process. You are also given special goggles to wear to protect your eyes. Every session lasts for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the area being treated.
It typically takes two weeks to recover from this procedure. Immediately after the procedure your skin will swell, turn red and be bruised for about one or two weeks.
It will then start fading to a lighter color over the following weeks. Your skin will be sensitive to the sun during this period, and sensitivity can last up to six months.
Follow any specific aftercare instructions provided by your practitioner closely. Generally though they will ask you to wash the treated area with a mild unperfumed soap only and slowly dab it to dry. Then keep applying a simple moisturizer such as olive oil or aloe vera to the treated area regularly to cool the skin. Make sure you protect the treated skin from the sun by using sun screen for up six months. Avoid picking at any scabs that might develop.
Some common side effects will include blistering, crusting, bruising, redness and swelling. These are common effects that pass after two weeks and should not raise any alarm.
There are a few serious effects that can occur which include:
- Skin infection
- The skin may turn too light or too dark
Consult a professional on the likelihood of these complications occurring and what to do when they arise.
5. Glutathione Injections
Glutathione injections are composed of natural amino acids that clear toxins and free radicals. These toxins and free radicals are believed to cause hyperpigmentation in the body and also lead to age spots, wrinkles, and sun spots. The treatment uses the naturally occurring antioxidant Glutathione to influence the dark and light pigments in the skin as required. The Glutathione is taken with Vitamin C to keep it in its most active form, and remove that which has already oxidized.
Some benefits of using this form of treatment may include:
- A full body skin lightening
- It may help prevent/remove pimples and pimple marks
- It may help remove dark spots
- It may have anti-aging and anti-wrinkling properties
- Antioxidant – leaving the skin glowing and feeling smooth
Some of the adverse effects can include:
- Toxic epidermal necrosis
- Hair loss
- Stomach upset and diarrhea
- Nausea/ vomiting
- Allergic reactions/hives/skin rashes
- Weight gain
- Chest pain/ breathing problems
- Kidney failure
- Steven Johnson’s syndrome
- Hair whitening
- Blood poisoning
- Painful breasts
So this is not a treatment to be considered lightly, and should only ever be considered in consultation with a qualified professional.
People with the following conditions are generally advised not to opt for Glutathione injections:
- Vitiligo patients.
- Those suffering from heart, liver and kidney conditions as it could lead to renal failure and sinus tachycardia.
- Those with hypersensitive skin as it can result in Stevens Johnson syndrome which is life-threatening.
The availability of glutathione injection treatment is quite limited, and should only ever be carried out by a qualified professional. Note that there are also glutathione products available pill forms – however the effectiveness of these products is considered questionable as no reliable studies have yet been made on oral use. They may in time prove effective, but as yet the scienctific studies have not been done.
Where Can I Get Skin Bleaching Treatments?
If you’re looking for procedures such as chemical peels, laser or glutathione injections then you will need to seek out a qualified dermatologist or medical doctor.
We are however compiling a directory of service providers and treatments available near you, so if you do recommend anyone (or provide services yourself) then please do contact us.
There are various types of treatment for those looking to bleach their skin. Each kind of treatment bears its own inherent risk and offers certain potential advantages. You need to assess the various treatments available to find out which is most suitable for you, and discuss this with a health professional. Adequate research on the side effects and what to expect will help in picking the best form of treatment for skin lightening your skin.