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Twenty Facts You Need to Know About Skin Lightening



Skin whitening is a global beauty phenomenon that shows no sign of diminishing in popularity. Despite the controversy surrounding use of these products, skin lightening products are a multi-billion dollar industry into which many people have bought the idea that a lighter skin colour is linked with beauty, success, sophistication and desirability. This idea has also been perpetuated in the mass media. Here are 20 facts associated with skin lightening: 

1) The use of skin lightening products is widespread amongst women in North America, South America, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Asia Pacific, Japan, the Middle East and Africa. Its global market is projected to reach $19.8 billion by 2018 based on sales mostly based in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. A more recent report has estimated that sales will reach $24 billion by 2027.

2) Since 2015, Asia Pacific has begin to dominate the global skin lightening products market in terms of market revenue. China and India are currently the fastest growing markets. 

3) The skin lightening products market is small in Europe compared to Japan and other Asian countries. 

4) Since August 2016, Ghana have issued a ban on the importation of skin lightening treatments.  

5) According to the World Health Organization, nearly 77% of Nigerian women, the highest percentage in the world, use skin-lightening products on a regular basis. This is followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and Mali at 25%. 

6) In the 1960's, 60% of African women were reported to be using skin lighteners. At the time, skin lighteners were the fourth most commonly used household product after soap, tea and tinned milk. 

7) Nigerian – Cameroonian popstar, Dencia launched her own whitening product online and it sold out within one day. Price for the products ranged from $50 to $150. 

8) There is evidence to suggest that skin lightening product use by men is growing.

9) Specialised cells (called melanocytes) produce the brown pigment melanin which gives skin its colour and helps to protect skin against sun damage. By acting directly on the melanocytes to reduce melanin production, the skin becomes lightened. 

10) People with light skin have less melanin and people with dark skin have more melanin. 

11) There are three treatments used by dermatologists to treat uneven skin colour which have long-term lightening effects. They are: 

    • "hydroquinone" -  an irritant bleaching agent found in prescription formulations used under medical supervision 
    • "steroids" - anti-inflammatory compounds which can have a lightening effect and are used to treat certain skin conditions 
    •  "laser treatment" to reduce pigmentation 

12) Hydroquinone and steroids cannot be used in cosmetic products sold in the UK. But products bought from overseas suppliers may contain them. Hydroquinone was actually banned in Europe during the 2000’s. It is now only available in a small amount when prescribed by doctors. 

13) Hydroquinone has been banned for sale as a skin lightener in Europe, Japan, and Australia and many groups are calling for the FDA to ban this chemical in the US. 

14) In the US, a ban was proposed by the FDA back in 2006 but currently skin-lightening products that contain 2 % hydroquinone can be sold over-the-counter and products that contain up to 4 % hydroquinone can be obtained by prescription from a physician. 

15) The full extent of the health risks hydroquinone poses, it is considered to be cytotoxic (toxic to cells), mutagenic and carcinogenic (cancer causing) is unknown. Hydroquinone is thought to increase the risk of complications such as thyroid disorders, liver disease and adrenal dysfunction. 

16) Health risks arise from using products that do not conform to safety standards. Despite being used by women of all classes and education levels, adverse health effects are more likely to affect poor women as they are more likely to purchase dangerous products. 

17) Side effects of inappropriate use of lightening treatments or use of products where the active ingredients are in excess of safe levels or illegal ingredients include: permanent skin bleaching, development of visible blood vessels, thinning of the skin; uneven, patchy skin colour; and redness, stinging and irritation.  

18) If a skin lightening treatment is discontinued, the skin may not return to its original colour. 

19) Skin lightening treatments strip the skin of melanin. Therefore the skin becomes more sensitive to the sun and is at increased risk of developing cancer.  

20) Excessive use of products containing steroids can also lead to hormonal disorders as the active ingredients affect naturally occurring steroid hormones. Side effects of excess use of hydroquinone include liver and nerve damage. Mercury is toxic and can cause kidney damage and fetal abnormalities if used in pregnancy.  

If you have any pigmentation issues and are looking for a safe, effective method to treat it, call Madame Skin today (0207 205 4305) to find out which ENVIRON product is suitable for you or go to the website ( and select "Pigmentation" from the "Skin Problems" menu. ENVIRON products do NOT contain hydroquinone.

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  • Jona Smith on

    thank you for the very informative article you posted!
    i learned something from it.

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