Skin whitening is a form of a cosmetic treatment whereby chemical and natural substances are used to lighten the skin color or get rid of certain skin pigmentation problems. The whitening treatment also helps in eliminating dark skin patches that cause uneven toning, fading scars and lightening up a tan. Most whitening treatments come in form of topical creams, lotions, soaps and pills. There are many reasons why people use skin lightening products. Firstly, in many cultures, whitening is done for aesthetic value since people with lighter skin are considered more wealthy and beautiful. For example, in India, skin plays a major in the Hinduism caste system. Women with white skin are considered classier and are ranked highly in the social caste.

Secondly, whitening treatments are also used in alleviating pigmentation abnormalities. This dermatological and beauty problem is caused by excess or minimal production of melanin. Excess production of melanin is known as hyperpigmentary while minimum production is referred to as hypomelanotic or hypopigmentary. Whitening treatments have been effectively used to treat these pigmentation disorders, giving the skin an even tone.

How do they work?

Most whitening treatments are made from ingredients that hinder the production of melanin. The natural color of the skin is determined by melanin that is produced by the melanocyte cells. When the skin is exposed to sun, the melanocyte cells produce more melanin, darkening the skin. Applying whitening treatment reduces the production of melanin, preventing the skin from darkening further. Also, most whitening treatments in the market contain hydroquinone, which is known for its lightening effects. Most over the counter whitening treatments contain at least two percent hydroquinone. However, a prescription from a doctor is needed to purchase products with a higher percentage of hydroquinone of over four percent.

Apart from hydroquinone, most topical whitening treatments also have some form of Vitamin A, mostly tretinoin. A combination of these two ingredients helps in alleviating hyperpigmentation that is caused by acne, hormone therapy or pregnancy. Most topical whitening creams and lotions also have a sunscreen that protects the skin from being damaged further by the harmful UV radiation.

Other whitening products contain azelaic acid and kojic acid as the active ingredients. These ingredients inhibit the production of melanin, leading to a lighter skin. A variety of skin whitening treatments contains natural products extracted from fruits such as arbutin from mulberries, cranberries or bearberries. These fruits contain a natural hydroquinone that inhibits melanin production, causing the skin to lighten up. Other fruits that lighten up the skin naturally include oranges, lemons and papaya. These fruits are either applied directly to the skin or included in the diet.

Other skin whitening treatments involve using peeling agents and fruit acids. These treatments are usually offered in an aesthetic clinic, whereby a peeling solution, such as an alpha-hydoxy acid is applied is applied by an aesthetic doctor on the skin to remove the dark, pigmented skin. The aesthetic doctor can also carry out the dermabrasion procedure, which alleviates pigmentation problems, acne scars and brown spots. This procedure involves rubbing the skin gently with a special instrument.


Most whitening products are associated with certain side effects and should not be applied in large doses. The chemical ingredients can lead to excessive redness and irritation, thinning of the skin and skin discoloration. These products should be used in moderation to achieve the best results without jeopardizing the user's health.

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