If you are considering skin whitening, you may want to lighten your overall color or even out your skin. Although many skin whitening creams will address these problems, they also come with significant risks. Imported skin whitening creams are particularly risky, because they can contain ingredients -- especially potent steroids -- not listed on the label and may be banned in the United States due to health concerns.
Repeated use of skin whitening creams may cause thinning of the skin--a condition that may be characterized by severe bruising, exposed capillaries, stretch marks and other serious problems. Although creams containing potent steroids should be available only with a prescription, "The New York Times" notes that clobetasol propionate, a very potent steroid that should not be used on the thin skin of the face, is often found in many over-the-counter skin whitening creams.
People with acne scars may turn to to skin whitening creams to lighten the scars. However, because many skin whitening creams contain steroids, the creams can actually cause blocked pores and lead to the development of new acne.
High Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can result from regular use of skin lightening creams that contain high levels of steroids. High blood sugar can lead to diabetes, and using skin whitening creams that elevate the blood sugar can be dangerous if you already have diabetes. Trying a prescription skin whitening cream, where the amount of steroids your body receives is monitored closely, will lower the risk of experiencing this side effect.
Dark patches on your skin, called ochronosis, are a possible risk of repeated skin whitening. Unlike sun spots, these patches on the surface of the skin are particularly stubborn and difficult to remove. You also run the risk of developing leukoderma, a skin condition where certain areas of skin stop producing melanin. Once the skin stops producing melanin, patches of pink skin appear. These patches can be treated only with skin grafts or ultra-violet light treatments, according to "The New York Times."
Mercury is banned for use in skin creams in the United States, but it can still be found in imported products. Despite risks of kidney and neurological damage, mercury is added to skin whitening creams because it prevents the production of melanin, which allows the skin to darken and tan. When investigating skin whitening creams, the "Chicago Tribune" sent 50 products for sale in the United States for analysis in an independent lab. Six of the creams contained levels of mercury that were banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As of August 2013, the FDA warns consumers to avoid mercury poisoning by not using foreign-made skin lighteners.
- New York Times: Creams Offering Lighter Skin May Bring Risks, Catherine Saint Louis, January 15, 2010
- Chicago Tribune: FDA Widens Mercury-skin Lightening Cream Investigation, Ellen Gabler and Sam Roe, May 28, 2010
- New York Times: A Vision of Pale Beauty Carries Risks for Asia's Women, Thomas Fuller, May 14, 2006
- FDA: Mercury Poisoning Linked to Skin Products