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How Do Skin Whiteners Work?

Many people are not happy with the way their skin looks because of age spots, scars related to acne or other problems and even discoloration due to hormones. Others are simply not happy with the shade or are looking to even out their tone. Many of these people will turn to whiteners as a way to achieve the beautiful and flawless skin they have always dreamed of. Skin lighteners are designed to improve and in some cases even get rid of dark areas and are very commonly used by those who are not satisfied with their skin tone.

How Is Skin Color Determined?

Melanin is the key component in determining what shade we are and that is because melanin is a pigment that is created by melanocytes which are cells that specialize in this job. In most cases, shade is determined by genetics and those with more melanin have darker skin. Some things, such as exposure to sunlight or certain chemicals, hormones or even damage can affect the shade but generally these fade over time. Other problems, such as age spots tend to be permanent.

How They Work

Most whiteners will contain a chemical that is designed to reduce the quantities of melanin found in the skin in the specific area they are applied to. The most common of these ingredients is hydroquinone but due to FDA regulations, over the counter products can only contain 2% or less of this chemical. Dermatologists, however, are able to write prescriptions for other skin whiteners that have 4% hydroquinone. Other lighteners use active ingredients such as retinoic acid (from vitamin A) and steroids. Some carry natural ingredients like kojic acid and arbutin. Regardless of the product used be sure to consult with your doctor before starting.


Because many skin whiteners use chemicals to inhibit melanin and lighten skin there are some health concerns, such as increasing your risk of developing skin infections, acne, skin thinning and even poor healing of wounds. There is speculation that using products with active ingredients based in chemicals for long periods of time may increase your risk of developing skin cancer if you are exposed to the sun. Some products may also cause allergic reactions or skin irritations so if you notice any symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately.


If you are considering using a whitener, it is important to be very careful in choosing the correct one and to talk to your doctor. When used correctly, the risks are minimal. Avoid products that contain mercury, which is a common ingredient in skin bleaching products made outside of the United States, as this can lead to mercury poisoning. In order to avoid health problems, it is important to only use whiteners on small areas of the body and to avoid using them for prolonged lengths of time.