Skin Bleaching – as Good as Natural Skin Lightening?
You may have heard that a common fix for discoloration is skin bleaching, which may help get rid of unwanted spots and blemishes. But you may also wonder if bleaching your skin is safe. As far as researchers know, the practice is effective and safe as long as you do it properly.
Most of us would like to have beautiful skin, no matter what color. But nearly any type of skin trauma can lead to skin discoloration, leaving some patches of skin darker than others. People can get acne scars as teenagers. Some women can get melasma, a type of patchy discoloration that occurs during pregnancy, and almost everyone gets freckles and age spots because of sun damage.
Why do people have skin discoloration?
There’s more than one cause of skin discoloration. Fortunately, bleaching is the same regardless of source of the problem.
Skin inflammation is one common source of discoloration. Skin trauma, no matter how minor or severe can lead to cutaneous inflammation. A small blemish, a bug bite, chronic friction; they’re all you need to leave skin irritated and ultimately discolored.
Sometimes, local pools of skin pigment remain, a condition known as PIH (Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation). However, your baseline skin tone ultimately dictates just how discolored the skin becomes. For instance, if you are a Mediterranean olive type complexion, PIH is purplish or a faint light brown. The darker your skin tone, the darker the PIH will be. The darker the PIH, the longer it will probably take to bleach things back to normal. Even purplish discoloration may take up to 6 months to resolve. Really dark brown skin discoloration can take more than a year.
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Melasma is another common condition resulting in patchy skin discoloration. The hormone estrogen can at times result in overactive pigment producing melanocytes. The outcome, brown patches across the cheeks, chin, forehead, and about the mouth. Melasma can also appear even without pregnancy.
The sun is your enemy and actively plays a role in deepening the disparity between your natural lovely skin tone and the unwanted dark patches. Blame all those hours spent in the sun intentionally sun bathing or perhaps you were merely passing through on your way to less sunny conditions. Those UV rays are going to send your pigment-producing skin cells or melanocytes into overdrive.
The good news for treating blotchy skin discoloration is that regardless of whether it is due to old acne, bug bites, skin trauma, underarm irritation, sun damage such as freckles and liver spots, and hormonal melasma, your bleaching basics remain the same.
Understanding bleaching terminology
Currently the FDA only recognizes hydroquinone as a bleaching agent for skin bleaching cream. That means that many other ingredients incorporated into products must be referred to as lighteners, brighteners, and whiteners.
Bleaches should be applied only to a dark spot area. If you do not have well defined dark spot areas to bleach, or have widespread freckling, you will want to select a skin whitening cream that is safer to use in more widespread areas.
Avoid applying the bleaching product to normal surrounding skin. Continued use of bleach on normal skin will slowly lighten the regular skin tone. Bleaching should be stopped when the desired effects are achieved. Otherwise, you may end up with areas of the skin that are lighter than your normal skin tone.
Sun protection is crucial. The sun will darken up the areas you are working so hard to bleach. A broad spectrum SPF 30 can be applied on top of your chosen discoloration-busting treatment.
Bleaching is not a fast process. Depending upon how dark the area is compared to the normal skin tone, it can take as long as a year or longer.
Variety is the key to skin bleaching
Up until now, the single ingredient that ruled bleaching was hydroquinone-based treatments on how to get lighter skin. Hydroquinone ruled both the over-the-counter and prescription markets. Recently, though, several things happened.
It was discovered that sometimes this treatment doesn’t work for everybody.
A well-rounded bleaching regimen should not only eliminate excess pools of pigment, but should also prevent unwanted skin color or melanin from being formed in the first place. As is always the case in medicine, the more points in the physiologic pathway you can disrupt, the better and often more rapid the improvement. The same goes for bleaching.
Skin pigment is ultimately produced based upon the actions of the enzyme tyrosinase. It catalyzes the chemical production of melanin. Shut down tyrosinase activity and you prevent further discoloration from forming.
Shutting down pigment formation
In the dark ages of bleaching, the single ingredient hydroquinone ruled. Nowadays, when it comes to trying to lighten those bits of brown, natural skin lightening is also making a comeback in partnership with bleaching.
In spite of other ingredients coming out for bleaching, Hydroquinone is the only agent capable of interfering with tyrosinase.
In fact, until now, this is the only FDA approved bleaching ingredient. Surprisingly, while considered to have a high safety rating in the U.S., for unknown reasons, hydroquinone is unavailable for use as a bleaching agent in Europe and South Africa. As of now, the US government stands behind hydroquinone and its safety record.
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