Porcelain white skin- A review of skin lightening agents part 1

Feb 07, 13 Porcelain white skin- A review of skin lightening agents part 1

Porcelain white skin had been deemed as one of the attribute to being beautiful especially in Asians. Paradoxically, a large proportion of Asian community possesses dark skin. This had led to the boom of skin lightening industry. Not all agents used for skin lightening are safe. Given the vast choices in the market, how should you choose your products? Know the products and its potential risk before embarking in the quest for this porcelain white skin.

There are a lot of ways to get to this quest; namely lifestyle modification, dietary modification, creams and skin products, skin procedures (chemical peels, microdermabrasion) and light/laser therapies. Among these, creams and skin products are used widely. In this issue, we will look into a few of the ‘giants’ of the skin lightening creams and skin products.


Hydroquinone, the queen of skin lightening

Hydroquinone is the big name for skin lightening. It is used widely in commercial skincare products and prescriptive medication. Medically, it can be used to treat various pigment skin disorders including melasma. Melasma are pigmentary skin disorder that often present as high big patch of darker skin on the face.

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the enzyme involves in the production of pigments on ones’ skin. By doing this, skin eventually lightens. Hence, if one were to apply this product on a normal skin, the normal skin would eventually lightens as well. However, it is not recommended to use hydroquinone on normal skin just to lighten the complexion. In fact, the usage of hydroquinone for melasma is only for a short term. It is not recommended to be used for maintenance treatment of pigmentary disorders.

In August 6 2006, US FDA had proposed a ban on over-the-counter sales of cosmetics containing hydroquinone. At the present state, all cosmetics and skin care product cannot contain more than 2% of hydroquinone legally. This is due to the many potential side effects from the usage of hydroquinone. Among the listed side effects were some evidence of it being carcinogenic, may cause ‘ochronosis’ (a skin condition that presents with greyish patch on the skin) and potentially causing blood disorders. Apart from this, it can be rather irritative as a big proportion of patients using this may find their skin red and itchy.

Hence, hydroquinone should only be used for treatment and not as a skin lightening agent. Prescription of hydroquinone should be from an expert in the field, preferably a dermatologist who is well aware of its risk and will be able to then justify if your condition warrants the short term usage of hydroquinone.

What about vitamin C for skin lightening?

Yes, vitamin c is a safer option for over the counter choice for skin lightening. Topical creams with vitamin C are abundant in the market. Apart from being a skin lightener, it is also acts as an skin antioxidant. Vitamin C can also be available in injectable forms. However, as opposed to cream vitamin C, injectable vitamin C had not been shown in studies to be effective and safe for this quest. For those with family history of kidney stone, be very careful on injectable vitamin C as high dose of vitamin C may potentially precipitate the formation of kidney stones.
Hence, cream preparation of vitamin C can be used. Until and unless there are more evidence on the efficacy and safety of injectable vitamin C, it is unwise to venture into this method for skin lightening.

Heard about kojic acid?

Kojic acid is another big name in the skin lightening industry. It is a by-product from rice fermentation process during the production of sake. It works by inhibiting the enzyme for the production of skin pigment and hence is also effective to lighten the skin. Like hydroquinone, it can also be irritative and allergenic to ones’ skin. Apart from this, it is still controversial if it can be carcinogenic as well when used in large dosage.

There a long list of other skin lightening agents that is yet to be discussed i.e. arbutin, niacinamide, mercury, soy products and etc. It shall be discussed in the next article in this blog. Watch out for it!


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