By Ntianu Obi
The appeal of lighter skin may seem irresistible but here are the hidden dangers of bleaching creams and why you’re doing more harm than good.
The psychological effects behind bleaching cannot be overstated. From lack of self-esteem to the idea that lighter skin makes one more beautiful.
Between colourism and lack of confidence, women are buying into the skin bleaching industry at an alarming rate.
However, do we really know what goes into those products. Due to the stigma surrounding bleaching, companies have become more clever with the language they use and instead, tend use less problematic words like lightening and brightening but the devastating effects remain the same.
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So what exactly is in bleaching creams and how does it work? Well, when bleaching ones skin, the goal is to reduce the amount of melanin deposited within the top layers of the skin.
Melanin is the product that gives skin and hair its dark colour. Reducing its quantity in the skin will make it less dark, whether it’s in scar tissue or all over the body.
The degree of whitening depends on the amount melanin that is removed from the skin. There are various methods used to achieve this, and different skin bleaching agents might contain ingredients that use one or more of these methods.
According to skin bleaching manufacturer Skintrium, these include:
Inhibiting the Activity of an Enzyme Known as Tyrosinase
Melanin is produced within cells known as melanocytes. It is a complex protein made by using an amino acid known as tyrosine, and then converting it through a series of steps into melanin. During this process, an enzyme known as tyrosinase is needed to convert this amino acid. There are some products that reduce the formation or effectiveness of this enzyme, which means that the amount of melanin formation will be reduced as well. In addition to that, there are some biological agents which modify the expression of the gene that is responsible for the manufacturing of tyrosinase, which has the same effect. The bleaching agents which depend on inhibition of this enzyme are very effective.
Preventing Melanin from Being Deposited onto the Skin
In order to make the skin dark and protect it from UV radiation, the melanin formed has to be transported to the upper layers of the skin.
All the particles of melanin are then arranged in order. This transfer process depends on the movement of a number of cells, and also expends energy. Some bleaching agents act by preventing this from happening.
This means that while the melanin is formed, it is not transported to the upper layer of the skin. This is usually a continuous process since melanin that is already in the upper layers of the skin is regularly lost when skin naturally sloughs off.
If this process is inhibited, the skin will get lighter with time, since the existing melanin will be lost but not replaced.
Destruction of Melanin and Melanocytes
The pigment that darkens the skin can also be destroyed by chemical agents that can be found in some skin bleaching products, leading to a lighter skin tone.
Alternatively, the cells that produce the melanin, known as melanocytes, can also be damaged and therefore not produce any melanin. An ideal bleaching agent should not only destroy the surface melanin without affecting any other system, since the melanocytes will simply increase the rate at which the melanin is formed to replace them.
This is why it is common to find that skin bleaching agents which target the melanin directly also influence another part of the system, such as transport of melanin to the surface or production of the melanin.
What exactly is inside bleaching cream?
Every bleaching product contains two main chemicals, Hydroquinone and mercury, both are toxic. Hydroquinone is a chemical used for photo processing and hair dyes. It is also used in the rubber industry as an antioxidant.
Mercury is another product often used in some cosmetic products as a bleaching agent. Incredibly toxic, it can cause skin to go grey or blue black, rather than lighter, and in many cases has resulted in the user suffering from mercury poisoning. Mercury is also a carcinogen.
These products both work in the short term to lighten the skin by stopping the production of melanin in the body. The more melanin you have in your body, the darker your skin.
Doctors suggest that the two toxic chemicals, Hydroquinone and mercury, react with ultraviolet rays and ironically lead to more pigmentation and premature aging.
The more this product is used, the less melanin the body produces, and this leads to an increased risk for skin cancer. Also, continued use of hydroquinone, will roughen the skin, making it look like an uneven patch of colours with a patchy appearance.
Why your body needs melanin?
Melanin is a natural substance in the body that gives the iris of the eye, hair and skin its color. Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin in the body. Melanin also acts as a kind of natural sunscreen to protect against harmful UV rays, however it cannot prevent sunburn all on its own.
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The more melanin you have in your body, the more protection you have against the sun. Melanin is deposited near the surface of the skin. It absorbs dangerous ultraviolet rays from the sun, working as a protective barrier to prevent the UV light from travelling deeper into the skin. Ultraviolet light can cause DNA damage in cells and skin cancer, so melanin is an extremely important molecule.
Bleaching completely destroys the amount of melanin in our skin making it more vulnerable and making those without it more susceptible to ailments such as skin cancer.
Natural is best
There are a variety of natural ways that one can treat hyper-pigmentation and revive dull-looking skin that does not involve any harsh chemicals. Though it takes longer and the results are gradual, it promotes overall skin health and will give you a natural-looking glow.
Before you start using home remedies, it is important to understand that taking care of your skin and protecting it is necessary. The skin becomes dull and pigmented mainly due to the accumulation of dead skin cells and damage from pollutants and harmful UV rays.
Cleansing and exfoliating your skin daily will ensure that all the dirt and impurities are removed as well as dead skin cells which clog up the pores.
Moisturising regularly makes sure your skin remains hydrated and sufficiently nourished. It’s also important to invest in a good quality sunscreen which will provide and extra layer of protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
1. Honey face wash
Honey has amazing benefits, not only for whitening your skin but to add moisture where moisture is due. If you have sensitive skin, it’s also a great alternative to traditional face washes containing antibacterial properties to prevent further damage.
2. Lemon juice works wonders
Vitamin C encourages new cell growth whilst lemons themselves act as a natural bleaching agent. Dip a cotton ball in a little bit of lemon juice and dab onto your skin. Apply for at least an hour and then wash off with lukewarm water. Consistency is key before you begin to see results.
3. Make a yogurt mask
Mix plain yogurt with a spoonful of honey. Apply this mixture on your face and leave on for a few minutes like a face mask. It works wonders with regular use!