For most women, the challenge to achieve radiant skin begins with dark spots or hyperpigmentation caused by the accumulation of melanin. Hyperpigmentation can be exacerbated by genetics and ethnicity. For black and brown skinned women of African, South East Asian and Hispanic descent, hyperpigmentation can create an uneven skin tone. For Caucasian women of European or Asian descent, blotchiness and spots caused by sun damage and the aging process are challenges that stand in the way of clear and radiant skin. Other roadblocks to clear skin are dryness and breakouts caused by hormonal fluctuations related to life changes like menopause and stress.
Skin brightening products remove dull cells and reveal radiant, glowing skin. Skin brightening products are an integral part of a skin care regimen to combat aging and for a smooth even skin tone. Some of the key brightening actives include Niacinamide, Vitamin C derivatives such as Ascorbic Acid and Ascorbyl Glucoside, Kojic Acid, Arbutin, Mulberry extract. Hydroquinone is the most widely used and effective ingredient to address hyperpigmentation, however the side effects of this ingredient when used in excessive amounts can cause many problems causing cosmetic formulators to seek out gentler, safer alternatives to achieve brightening results.
Skin lightening products are focused on lightening dark spots. They are typically targeted to particular areas of discolorations like freckles (please don’t fade your freckles), age spots, hyperpigmentation from acne breakouts and bruising. Lightening creams work to reduce the melanin pigmentation in a particular area on the skin. The primary lightening ingredient used by dermatologists is a blend of hydroquinone and other actives. Lightening products are best used as directed by a dermatologist and for a limited period of time.
Skin Bleaching -The Dark Side of Skin Brightening
Skin bleaching is a global phenomenon prevalent in cultures where very fair skin is considered to be more desirable and an indicator of higher social status. Its prevalence and damage to the skin and psyche of users borders on some form of body dysmorphia or maybe we can call it color-dysmorphia. This cultural phenomenon can be found among dark skinned women of African descent, brown skinned women of South East Asia and Hispanic cultures to the extremely fair skinned cultures of Korea and China. All these cultures engage in some form of extreme skin bleaching aimed at transforming the skin color to the palest of white.
Bleaching creams are typically not used under a physician’s supervision in these scenarios. The products are sold under the radar and typically do not meet FDA requirements. Many of the creams contain a high percentage of hydroquinone (upwards of 4% FDA approves 1 to 2% for over the counter products); topical steroids and mercury, a poison that can damage the nervous system. Some of the side effects go well beyond the surface of the skin and include hypertension caused by unsupervised use of steroids and potential liver and kidney damage. Other more obvious side effects include blue-black darkening of the skin and thinning of the skin that results in veins showing through.
Jaythree Rathod, a holistic esthetician and director of Vedic Spa in Ellicot City, MD, recalls growing up in India and experiencing discrimination against the girls who had dark skin; “They were not very welcomed by society and would often be bullied and taunted by fairer skinned girls. There would be constant suggestions by family and friends on how to lighten the skin in order to find a good husband or a good job” Examples of how widespread this phenomenon is can be seen in the skin bleaching propaganda campaigns promoted by Indian based firm Fair ‘n Lovely.
Elle Morris, a design firm CEO, and Charissa Huie, an elementary school teacher, both fair skinned Latina women from Cuba and Panama respectively, also confirm the messages received growing up in the within the Latino community—that fair skin was more valued than darker skin.
According to Jaythree, Asian clients are obsessed with fair skin and go to extreme measures to achieve their goal. Terri B., Founder/Writer of Fewphoria, who is of Caribbean heritage where the skin bleaching phenomena via popular culture is prolific, notes that it has taken over many Caribbean cultures where both men and women are seeking to achieve the extremely fair skin as they believe it will provide them access to better lives.
The good news is that the current trend within the US beauty market to embrace one’s natural and authentic beauty is changing the tide and minimizing the desire for brown and darker skinned women to engage in skin bleaching. Women are now proudly celebrating the beautiful differences of their hair and skin color instead of trying to fit into the narrow constraints of how the masses define what beauty is. The influence that the US has on the rest of the world will likely increase this trend toward self-acceptance and help make skin bleaching a thing of the past.
About the Expert
Funlayo Alabi is the co-founder of Shea Radiance, a natural beauty brand dedicated to transforming hair, skin, thinking … and lives into something more beautiful than what it was before. An integral part of Shea Radiance is to empower the 16 million African women who are picking and processing Shea nuts and butter, and connect them with women around the world who benefit from their artisan craftsmanship. She spent nearly a decade working on all-natural product formulations for Shea Radiance, with the objective of perfecting a high-percentage of shea butter formulation. Funlayo is a global business leader who speaks domestically and internationally on matters of international business, market and economic access for African women, Africa’s agricultural sector and Shea butter.
Shea Radiance was founded in 2008 on the premise that women need to care for themselves and each other. The company crafts artisanal skincare and haircare products that are all-natural with the purest, small-batch, women-sourced shea butter from West Africa as a primary ingredient. Shea Radiance promotes the power of community and empowerment for women around the globe.