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What Are Skin Lighteners And How Do They Work?

Posted by Madeleine Franzreb on

What Is A Skin Lightener?

Information on Skin LightenersA skin lightener is a product that reduces melanin in the skin. Oftentimes, they are called bleaching creams, skin brighteners, or fade creams. Skin color is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin. The more melanin in a given area, the darker the skin color. Typically people use skin lighteners to treat skin problems such as acne scars, age spots, hormonal skin discoloration, or even undesirable freckles. They can also be used as a means to naturally lighten darker skin. In some cases, melanin abnormalities will naturally correct themselves, such as a tan that fades after an extended period of time away from the sun. In other cases, such as liver or age spots, discoloration will not disappear on its own.

How Is Melanin Produced And What Does It Do?

Melanin is produced by a specialized type of cell known as a melanocyte. It can be broadly categorized into one of two camps depending on the dominant color tones: red or yellow coloration is known as Phaeomelanine, while the more common black or brown coloration is called Eumelanin. The biological process of creating melanin (melanogenesis) is triggered by things like hormones, free-radicals, physical irritation, and ultraviolet radiation (the sun).

Melanin is thought to dissipate some 99.9% of UV radiation and thereby generally protect skin cells from damage. It does this by accumulating on top of the nucleus of skin cells in order to prevent mutations to cellular DNA from things like solar radiation. When your melanocytes are working properly, the melanin they produce is a defensive layer for your body. That said, too much melanin in one area or another can be aesthetically undesirable and the use of a skin lightener can help clear up spots.

How Does A Skin Lightener Work?

Melanin production includes oxidation of the amino acid tyrosinase (involving the transfer of an electron) followed by polymerization (where small molecules combine into three-dimensional networks of larger molecules). Skin lighteners work by blocking this process. An active ingredient in many skin lighteners is hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is regulated in the United States by the FDA and is permitted over the counter in quantities up to 2%. You can read more about hydroquinone here.

What Are The Risks?

Make sure to read the label prior to using skin lightening products as bleaching agents do come with some risks. If you are using a prescription product with more concentrated amounts of an active bleaching agent, consult with your dermatologist prior to using.