Study Skin lightening products pose risks, but users often unaware.

Study Skin lightening products pose risks, but users often unaware.

The Dangers and Consequences of Using Skin Lightening Products


Using skin lightening products can be dangerous, as they may contain harmful ingredients. However, despite the risks involved, a recent survey revealed that almost a quarter of people use these products for overall skin lightening rather than for a specific medical issue. This trend stems from colorism, a system of inequality that deems lighter skin as more beautiful.

Dr. Roopal Kundu, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead investigator of the study, expressed surprise at the lack of awareness regarding the potential detrimental effects of over-the-counter skin lightening products. These products are readily available in chain grocery stores, community-based stores, and online platforms, but they are not subjected to the same regulations as large-chain or prescription products. Consequently, the quality and safety of these over-the-counter products cannot be guaranteed.

While there are valid medical reasons for using skin lightening products, such as treating conditions like melasma, many people who use these products do not consult a medical professional beforehand. Research has shown that these products often contain contaminants like steroids and mercury that can be toxic to the skin.

To further explore the prevalence and motivations behind skin lightening, researchers conducted an anonymous survey among individuals of color in the United States. The 19-question survey focused on demographics, colorism attitudes, skin tone satisfaction, and skin lightening habits. A total of 455 people completed the survey, representing diverse backgrounds, including Black, Asian, multiracial, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and other ethnicities.

Of the respondents, 21.3% reported using skin lightening products. Three-quarters of these individuals used the products to treat specific skin conditions like acne, melasma, or hyperpigmentation, while others used them for general skin lightening purposes. The majority of those who used skin lighteners were women. Interestingly, the study found that participants who used these products perceived stronger colorism in their lives.

“The belief is that having lighter skin is tied to personal and professional success,” Dr. Kundu explained. Within Southeast Asian and African populations, there exists a perception that lighter skin is viewed more favorably and can enhance attractiveness and job prospects.

However, using skin lightening products without medical supervision can have severe consequences. Dr. Kundu recounted a case where a patient applied the lightening product hydroquinone (commonly known as a bleacher) to his entire face for many years, resulting in permanent hyperpigmentation. Another patient expressed a desire to completely lighten their skin, but Dr. Kundu clarified that such a drastic change was not feasible.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports of serious side effects associated with the use of skin lightening products containing hydroquinone. These side effects include skin rashes, facial swelling, and discoloration. In response, the FDA has advised against the use of these products.

The findings of this study were published online in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, shedding light on the importance of understanding the risks and motivations behind skin lightening.



Skin lightening products pose significant risks when used without medical supervision due to potential contamination with harmful ingredients. The allure of lighter skin, influenced by colorism, drives many individuals to use these products for cosmetic purposes. However, the consequences can be dire, as highlighted by cases of permanent hyperpigmentation and the FDA’s reports on harmful side effects. It is crucial to prioritize awareness and education about the risks associated with skin lightening products and promote the acceptance and appreciation of diverse skin tones.