Cutting to the Chase on Skin Bleaching

simulated images -  left : bleached,  center : no treatment,  right : brightened

simulated images - left: bleached, center: no treatment, right: brightened

Why do some products call themselves ‘whitening’ while others are labeled as ‘brightening?’ Is there truly a difference or is it influenced by regional and cultural preferences? Are these the same as bleaching and lightening products?

Before we explain, we should say that globally this is a sensitive topic, and for good reason. To this day, lighter skin is associated with greater wealth and beauty. It is highly desired in many countries and often impacts people’s lives from what jobs they can get to who they can marry. While we won’t go into the long history of skin color preferences globally, we can say, that tides are gradually shifting, which is partly why there is such confusion in this terminology.

If we put the terminology aside, there are basically two different goals of these products. Most are either intended to truly lighten and/or reduce the pigment in the skin and the other is typically intended to improve hyperpigmentation (dark spots) and brighten dull/dry skin. What we see today is these terms being used interchangeably. The best way to ensure you are getting a product that accomplishes what you want is to know which ingredients to look for.

Coup De Coiff - skin bleaching.png

Lighten and/or reduce the pigment in the skin

  • Hydroquinone

  • Mercury

  • Tranexamic acid

Improve hyperpigmentation (dark spots) and brighten dull/dry skin

  • Vitamin C

  • Chemical exfoliators like (lactic and glycolic acids)

  • Alpha arbutin - naturally derived from bearberry extract

  • Kojic acid - from fermented mushrooms

  • Licorice root

While some of the ingredients are perfectly safe, some should be avoided at all costs. Do not purchase products that contain these ingredients.

  1. Mercury oxide

  2. Cinnabaris

  3. Mercury salts

  4. Quicksilver

  5. Mercuric amidochloride

How to get the most bang for your buck?

You will notice a wide range of products offering these benefits, but which product really does the trick? We recommend using serums and toners to maximize the results. Cleansers that have these ingredients may not be as effective as they are not always on the skin long enough to penetrate. Some exfoliating cleaners may be effective, but will not be as effective as stronger, more nutrient dense treatments in serums and toners.

  • The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

  • Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum with Kojic Root, Ferulic Acid, and Hyaluronic Acid

  • SkinCeuticals Vitamin C E Ferulic with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid


Why are products intended to lighten skin tone and reduce melanin production seen negatively?

If we are being honest, it is less about the ingredients and more about the images that are perpetuated and the impact of prolonged exposure to the toxins in them. Some products do have dangerous ingredients, but they are not necessarily more or less dangerous than other beauty products that don't use clean ingredients.

People who use these products don't get a one-time fix and will instead use them consistently for a long time and sometimes their entire lives. How do we help them when we can't change society overnight?

  1. Hold companies accountable for the ingredients in their products

  2. Support lawmakers who support legislation for cleaner beauty products

  3. Truly celebrate all images of beauty and not only those that fall into cultural norms

  4. Be an ally by supporting organizations that promote equality in beauty