Societal standards and makeup advertisements bombard little girls at a young age, teaching them that flawless, even skin tone is the ideal.

Makeup advertisement for color correcting cream

Unfortunately, in this endless quest for youth and beauty, we often times use products that are harmful to us. People with darker, uneven pigmentation think they need to use skin-lightening face creams. Those that are pale hit the tanning beds to get a “healthy” glow. The fact is neither of these practices are beneficial or safe.

What to Look Out For

Lately, you may have started noticing skincare lines that boast they can dramatically lighten and even out your skin tone. The most common ingredient in skin lighteners in the U.S. is hydroquinone. So, how does it work? Hydroquinone works by reducing the production of melanin, a pigment in the skin. People seek it out because maybe they have freckles, acne scars, or age spots they want to get rid of. And, it’s easily accessible in over-the-counter (OTC) preparations (up to 2%), but doctors can write prescriptions for 4-6%.

Skin bleaching cream with hydroquinone

Using hydroquinone improperly and not under the care of a dermatologist can have many detrimental effects. Long-term use can increase the risk of skin cancer. How? By decreasing melanin production, it allows UV rays to penetrate the skin more deeply. That’s why it’s imperative you use sun protective measures when using hydroquinone because your skin will be more sensitive to sunlight. It can also cause a condition called exogenous ochronosis, which ironically is an unwanted skin discoloration. With extended use of hydroquinone, the skin can actually start to take on a bluish-black pigmentation, with poor treatment options available.

exogenous ochronosis

Doctors usually only prescribe hydroquinone for a brief period, but the fact that consumers have access to OTC products allows abuse. And far too often, people seek their doctor’s care after the damage is already done.

Are there other concerning ingredients in skin-lightening face creams?

You bet! Steroids and retinoic acid (derived from vitamin A) carry their own risks. Steroids can lead to poor wound healing, acne, skin thinning, and increased risk of infection. And why would something derived from vitamin A be bad for your skin? Many manufacturers add retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate (derivatives of vitamin A) to moisturizers and sunscreens to slow skin aging. However, a federal study conducted in 2012 found that retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid could speed the development of cancerous tumors in hairless mice when exposed to sunlight. So I guess the moral of the story is to avoid the sun at all costs when you’re using powerful chemicals like hydroquinone or vitamin A derivatives.

You also have to be careful of skin lightening products sold outside of the U.S. It was found that almost 25% contained mercury, which can cause serious psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problems.

If you do have any concerns about your skin, consult a dermatologist to see what your treatment options are, whether it’s topical creams, microdermabrasion, laser treatments, or chemical peels.

Dermatologist examining patient

And know that you are beautiful just the way you are, flaws or no flaws. We should celebrate our skin, whether we’re white, yellow, black, brown, green, or anything in between. Give your skin a little TLC, and learn to love your blemishes because that’s what makes you YOU!

Best Face Creams I Like

Best face creams, Andalou Naturals Night Creams

Andalou Naturals Luminous Night Cream, Heavenly Night Cream, or Night Repair Cream

Why I Like It: Andalou Natural’s line of night creams are very moisturizing and full of organic, nourishing ingredients–no hydroquinone here! I’ve been using the Luminous Night Cream religiously for about 2 months now, and I love it!


Best face creams, Nourish Organic Restorative Night Cream

Nourish Organic Restorative Night Cream

Why I Like It: This product is certified USDA organic and has a great natural scent. It’s a bit on the lighter side, so if you don’t require a lot of moisturization, this may do the trick.


Best face creams, Bee Friendly Face and Eye Cream or Night Cream

Bee Friendly Face and Eye Cream or Night Cream

Why I Like It: Bee Friendly creams are handmade by holistic beekeepers in Hawaii, using very simple, natural ingredients. It has 4.4 stars on Amazon from over 1,500 users!

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