Skin whitening is among the most popular aesthetic skin treatments in the world today, driven largely by growing demand across a number of Asian countries. The Asian beauty aesthetic places a huge premium on flawless, fair complexion and this is driving women and men, alike, to opt for both treatment and skincare products that help lighten their skin.
How does skin whitening help you you get a fairer complexion?
Skin whitening treatment or skin lightening treatment works by reducing the melanin pigmentation produced by the melanocytes that are found under the skin and which give the skin its color and protects the skin from damage due to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The more the melanin pigment, the darker the skin color. The concentration of melanin in a person’s skin depends on a range of factors such as genetics, hormones, skin damage, and degree of exposure to sunlight.
These factors need to be considered in forming expectations about the results from skin whitening treatment – due to genetic factors, the idealized “Caucasian” skin tone cannot be aspired to by people originating from warm, tropical climates such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South East Asia. The results from skin whitening treatment are dependent greatly on the starting point, i.e., the natural and original skin color of the person undergoing the treatment.
Can skin whitening help remove blemished skin?
There are many skin conditions causing blemished skin which can be addressed using skin whitening treatment. People with birthmarks, dark patches or permanent pigmentation (also known as ‘melasma’) can all benefit from skin whitening treatment. Hormonal changes, sun exposure or free radicals can damage skin which leads to dark spots and patches. When the exposure to the sun increases, greater quantities of melanin are produced by the melanocytes, leading to dark patches, tanned skin or pigmentation.
Pigmentation refers to the presence of hypopigmentation (light) or hyperpigmentation (dark) patches on the skin which can affect the face, neck, arms, back etc. Pigmentation can occur due to sun exposure as well as due to hormonal imbalances, during pregnancy or through a prolonged intake of birth control pills. The good news is that all these patches can also be removed by laser skin lightening treatment, making the skin look clean, smooth and clear.
What are the various procedures or techniques used to whiten or lighten skin?
Skin whitening treatment can be done through various techniques or procedures, depending mainly on the type of the skin that is being treated. The popular skin whitening techniques or methods include the following:
- Skin bleaching
- Hydroquinone treatment
- Glutathione treatment
- Chemical peeling
- Laser treatment
Is topical treatment effective for skin whitening treatment?
Topical treatments also known as skin whiteners, bleaching creams or serums work by reducing melanin pigmentation in the skin. They can be used for acne scars, discoloration due to hormonal changes or age spots or to lighten naturally occurring dark skin.
The effect of the topical treatments is felt only till the epidermis (upper layer of the skin) even though the skin absorbs some of the ingredients. By failing to reach the dermis or lower layer of the skin, the results from such treatments are short-lived and need to be continuously repeated to maintain results.
Is skin bleaching dangerous?
Skin bleaching treatment is a cosmetic treatment for reducing any prominent discoloration of the skin. This treatment uses chemicals called skin lighteners containing active ingredients such as hydroquinone, vitamin A, kojic acid and mercury chloride all of which act by reducing the amount of melanin in the skin.
The most significant risk of using skin lighteners is exposure to the active ingredient mercury which can lead to mercury poisoning that may cause neurological, psychiatric or kidney problems and also can lead to transmission of mercury to the unborn child of a pregnant women. Some other risks can be premature ageing of the skin, increased risk of skin cancer in the case of prolonged usage, skin infections and Ochronosis (skin discoloration). To avoid these risks some precautions should be taken such as checking for the active ingredients and their percentage by volume in the bleaching agent.
Hydroquinone and Glutathione treatment both work as melanin inhibitors
Hydroquinone treatment also known as benzene or quinol is rich in properties and is an inhibitor of melanin production, thereby resulting in lightening of the skin. It is particularly helpful for treatment of different forms of hypopigmentation. It benefits skin conditions like acne scars, melasma, age spots, freckles and can help in fading away the red or brown spots. Some minor side effects can be experienced with this treatment if the skin is sensitive including dryness or temporary redness. And in rare cases Ochronosis can be caused in case of prolonged daily use.
Glutathione (GSH) which is a natural antioxidant present in our body inhibits the production of melanin. It also prevents oxidative damage to skin. It can be taken as oral medication or as an injection. Glutathione treatment helps in brightening and rejuvenating the skin and also removes the signs of anti-ageing. Glutathione or Kojic acid-based injections injected directly into the bloodstream start triggering immediate changes in the body.
Chemical peels work by using chemicals to remove the top layers of the skin
Chemical peel is a skin resurfacing technique that involves applying chemical solution (mild or tretinoin-based peels) to exfoliate and eventually peel off the top layers of the skin. The new skin that grows back is usually smoother, less wrinkled and younger looking. Chemical peels are effective in treating facial blemishes, age spots, freckles and moderate skin discoloration, uneven skin pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles.
Chemical peel helps in improving health of skin, tone, texture, skin appearance of face, neck and hands, scarring, acne and pigmentation melasma and also improves one’s complexion by accelerating collagen production, thereby resulting in radiant and whiten skin
Chemical peels can be used at three different depths depending on the specific skin issue that is being addressed and include the following:
Light chemical peel is used to remove epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and lasts for 1-2 months. To maintain effective results treatment very 4-6 months usually works well.
Medium chemical peel removes skin cells from the epidermis and upper part of the dermis (middle layer of skin). To maintain effective results, it can be repeated every 3-9 months.
Deep chemical peel removes the skin from epidermis and mid to lower layer of dermis to treat scars, precancerous growth, deep wrinkles. It can be performed only once. The new layer of skin appears in around 7-10 days and healing may take several months.
Chemical peel helps in improving the tone, texture and health of the skin and removing scarring, acne and pigmentation melasma. It also promotes anti-aging by stimulating collagen production and thereby preventing skin sagging and wrinkle formation.
What are the side effects of chemical peel treatment?
It is not a painful treatment but can cause little tingling or tightness. Some of the side effects include scarring, redness, fungal infection, change in color of skin, heart, kidney or liver damage due to the carbolic acid (phenol) which is used in chemical peel. Some of the potential severe risks are permanent scarring, chemical burns and permanent pigmentation problems including skin darkening (hyperpigmentation) or skin lightening (hypopigmentation).
Micro-dermabrasion uses physical abrasion to remove the top layers of the skin
Micro-dermabrasion treatment involves gently buffing, polishing and sloughing off the surface or top layer of the skin using a diamond tipped wand (abrasion instrument) to sand the skin and exfoliating dead and the sun damaged skin cells. It removes the stratum corneum replacing the lost or dead skin cells with the healthy cells. These exfoliators are not melanin inhibitors and cannot lighten the skin completely but help in giving the skin an even tone, clearing dead skin cells or hyperpigmentation faster which helps brighten up the complexion and get rid of dark spots caused by acne, damage by sunlight or scarring.
Cryosurgery is very effective for removing dark spots on the skin
Cryosurgery treatment is best for irregular skin darkening and dark spots. It is done by application of liquid nitrogen for freezing skin lesions. It is a thawing process that destroys lesions with the help of sharp ice crystals and making way for development of lighter and new cells. The freezing or thaw cycles can be repeated to improve efficacy. It is safe for all skin types and is best used in small areas. The extra melanin is pushed to the surface of the skin which then peels off in a few days, resulting in lighter skin.
Laser treatment is a long-lasting method for skin whitening
During laser surgery skin lightening treatment, Laser skin resurfacing also known as laser peel or skin rejuvenating procedure is a cosmetic surgical procedure to lighten skin, reduce appearance of wrinkles, cars, fine lines and remove dark blemishes.
It is a thermal photorejuvenation technique by using short bursts of laser light (ablative and non-ablative lasers) to remove the outer layer of the skin stimulating the body to create new cells. It is performed by giving local anesthesia to numb the area to be treated and usually takes 1-2 hours to complete the procedure of the treatment. It also heats the underlying skin layers causing the collagen fibres (that binds skin together) to tighten the skin that makes skin look more toned. The carbon dioxide laser or the erbium laser can be used to execute the treatment.
Laser whitening treatment can cause dryness, swelling, irritation, skin redness, tightness, scarring, bruising, sensitivity to sunlight, skin texture differences and pigmentation. This method is generally safe but can, in rare cases, lead to abnormal healing and infection, burns or injuries due to heat of the laser and damage to the eyelids (ectropion). Laser treatment should be avoided in people who are prone to scars, cold sores, acne or skin disorders. Smoking should be avoided for at least 2-3 weeks before and after the treatment. The recovery time is usually 5-7 days depending on the skin of the patient and the device used for the treatment. The effect of the laser treatment lasts for years. It improves the skin appearance, texture and pigmentation.
After laser skin whitening treatment, the skin becomes extremely sensitive and, hence, the following post-treatment guidelines should be followed to avoid complications:
- Keep the treated area clean and wash gently with chemical free soaps;
- Regularly apply aloe vera gel or petroleum jelly to sooth the skin;
- Avoid touching or picking if a layer of scabs and crusts forms on the treated area;
- Take your prescribed painkillers to reduce swelling;
- Regularly apply sun screen lotions for around six months to prevent darkening or sunburn.