Skin bleaching is a cosmetic whitening process practiced by people of color all over the world. Under the influence of the European beauty standard, light skin has been associated with attractiveness and a higher social status in many cultures across the globe.
A 2013 report titled “Global Beauty Industry Trends in the 21st Century” stated that 23 percent of global beauty industry sales are derived from skin care products. According to the report, skin care is a growing market, with most of that increase coming from countries in Asia and Africa. This trend has been attributed to the rise in bleaching product sales. India tops the list with 80 percent of all skin-whitening sales within Asia. Nigeria accounts for 77 percent of all bleaching sales in Africa.
The World Health Organization warns that skin bleaching may come with hazardous health consequences. The dangers associated with the use of toxic compounds for skin bleaching can include blood cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, as well as severe skin conditions. The organization reports that hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments containing toxins such as mercury, a metal that blocks skin color production properties of melanin.
Shiseido’s White Lucent skin care line includes whitening serums and bleaching creams. Also included is a power brightening mask, which is supposed to guarantee “deep-penetrating whitening.”
Consumer Health Digest revealed the active melanin destruction and prevention ingredient in Shiseido’s exclusive 4MSK blend may inhibit melanin production. Monopotassium salt, an ingredient in White Lucent’s secret formula, is also used as a pesticide, according to an EPA fact sheet published about the chemical.
The Blanc Expert product line by Lancome has several bleaching products. According to Lancome’s website, Blanc Expert “features the latest brightening technology designed to regulate melanin production and awaken the luminosity of the skin.” The Lancome proprietary blend called Melanolyser™ contains a yeast extract that dissolves and prevents the formation of the melanin that cause skin pigmentation and darkening.
Kojic Acid Dipalmitate is another ingredient used in Blanc Expert products and is known for its skin-whitening effects. The International Journal of Molecular Sciences published a report in 2012 revealing that exposure can lead to a disrupting effect on thyroid metabolism and can possibly be a carcinogen.
Clinque claims to even skin tone by diminishing dark spots with its Even Better skin-bleaching products. An active ingredient in Even Better products is dimethoxytolyl propylresorcinol. This ingredient is known to inhibit tyrosinase, which is the enzyme in skin that produces melanin.
Another controversial ingredient is phenoxyethanol. The National Center for Biotechnological Information reports that repeated exposure to phenoxyethanol can result in contact dermatitis, worsening of eczema, reproductive toxicity and neurotoxicity.
The Avon advanced skin care product line, Anew, has a collection of skin-brightening products called Luminosity. According to Avon’s website, the moisturizer and serum-bleaching systems are supposed to reverse the signs of aging by diminishing skin darkening that occurs with age.
The Luminosity line has several ingredients with known potential side effects ranging from cancer to immunotoxicity. Environmental Working Group reports the active ingredient Octinoxate has startling possible side effects including: biochemical or cellular level changes, developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity.
Fashion Fair, a Black-owned cosmetics company, has an entire line consisting of bleaching creams and dark spot removers called Vantex. An advertisement for Vantex Bleaching Cream promises to help “improve skin clarity.”
The active ingredient in most Vantex products is Benzene 1, which is a flammable chemical also found in cigarettes. Benzene has been banned in several countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the major effect of Benzene exposure for a year or more is on the blood. Benzene can cause harmful effects on the bone marrow, and it could lead to a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It may also cause excessive bleeding and affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.
Aveeno has a skin-lightening product line called Positively Radiant. The moisturizers and skin toners are marketed to promote a natural skin-bleaching experience. Aveeno’s website states that users will achieve “more flawless radiance.”
Although Aveeno products are advertised as a natural solution to skincare, their complete ingredient lists would prove otherwise. For example, one ingredient in the Positively Radiant Brightening Cleansing Wash is a topical antiseptic called Benzalkonium Chloride. Drugs.com reports that side effects of exposure to this chemical include severe allergic reactions (rash, hives, itching, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, swelling of the mouth, face, lips or tongue), infection, severe or persistent irritation, redness, pain, or swelling.