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Potential Dangers Of Using Skin-Lightening Creams

Michael Jackson and I both have a skin condition called vitiligo, a condition that results in loss of skin color in patches throughout one's face and body.

For years, I have heard people snicker about Michael Jackson's feeble attempts to "be more white." The truth is, Michael Jackson's skin is white because more than a decade ago, he used powerful skin-lightening medication to blend his naturally brown skin color with his white, depigmented patches.

Skin-lightening creams are heavily promoted by many dermatologists and skin care experts to even out cosmetic conditions like vitiligo, liver spots, and other superficial blemishes.

The problem with these creams is that many of them contain a substance called hydroquinone, which a variety of studies have linked to:

  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of adrenal gland problems
  • Increased risk of all health conditions associated with mercury poisoning
  • Increased risk of developing a rare metabolic disorder called ochronosis, which can cause physical changes to the skin and tissues surrounding the eyes, ears, and joints

Citing these and other potential dangers of using creams that contain hydroquinone, this past Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. put forth a proposal to ban over-the-counter sales of skin-lightening products.

Don't expect dermatologists and the many companies who sell hundreds of different skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone to remain silent about the FDA's proposal.

According to the L.A. Times, in the United States, approximately two-thirds of all skin-lightening products are available over-the-counter without a prescription. Who knows how many millions of dollars this translates to each month for companies that produce these products?

If you're not convinced that skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone are best avoided, consider that hydroquinone has already been banned for sale in the European Union, Australia, and Japan.

Perhaps the real issue here is the lack of encouragement that our society offers to people who feel badly about their physical appearances. There never seems to be a shortage of plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and other sales people who encourage people to change or hide what they don't like about their looks.


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Anonymous said...

Dr. Kim:

Before I was diagnosed with vitiligo, I used hydroquinone to lighten dark patches caused by sun exposure after the birth of my children. At the time I did not have white spots but maybe having the propensity to acquire vitiligo, after many years us use it did show up and now I'm dealing with this autoimune problem. So, yes, I strongly agree that these products should be banned if at all possible.

As always, thank you so much for binging such important information to your readers.

Friday, September 01, 2006 6:17:19 PM
Tyciol said...

If that was the only reason, why didn't he just blend the patches into his dark skin with tanning lotion or something?
Monday, September 04, 2006 12:24:20 PM
Anonymous said...

I too have vitiligo and have had for many years. It was hard for me to accept for a long time, but as I have realized through being less vain, my mother and her mother and also one of my first cousins have this condition. It is passed down through the generations and you might as well just accept it and get on with living and thanking God for what you "do" have today!! Happy Labor Day, Fellow Vitiligioians!!! Smile! MPA Most Positive Attitudes
Monday, September 04, 2006 1:05:06 PM
Anonymous said...

Tyciol..."blend the patches into his dark skin with tanning lotion or something?"
That comment was quite the laugh.
Monday, September 04, 2006 2:13:20 PM
Anonymous said...

Dr. Kim,
Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I've been using a product called Dermablend to cover up a keloid for the past couple of years that indeed contains hydroquinone.
I had no idea of the dangers this ingredient possessed until I read your article. Does the hydroquinone flush out of the body over time after discontinued use?

Monday, September 04, 2006 2:25:45 PM
Fannie said...

My mother has vitiligo. She is 86 years old now and it really started when she was 50 year old. We are a Black American family. She did not use any make up or skin bleaches,etc. However, today, she is white all over except for a few spots on her back. She was told that using walnut oil would turn the white spots brown. It worked in an opposite manner. Anyway, she is not vain about her looks and she remains beautiful even at her age. When people meet her they may or may not enquire, and she goes on with life. You are right, others need to be more accepting. If not, tose with vitiligo have to be accepting>
Monday, September 04, 2006 2:55:55 PM
Anonymous said...

I used a skin lightening product when I was a teenager to lighten the freckles on my face. In my early thirties, I was diagnosed with Rosacea _ I wonder if the use of the lightening product was a cause of the Rosacea. Has anyone heared of a connection between the two?
Monday, September 04, 2006 3:47:32 PM
Anonymous said...

I have heard that lemon juice is great for lightening brown patches on one's skin.

I am looking for a safe way to lighten some dark spots that I got during my second pregnancy.

Any suggestions would be helpful.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006 12:17:49 AM
Anonymous said...

I used A product called begone skin toner that had 2% Hydroquinone on and off for years but have stopped using this product.It seems that my white blood count has been low.I was wondering if this is the cause of using this product.I am basicly very healthy and flush my system out alot but trying to find out why my white blood count is still low.I would like to know if there is somehting can be sued to flush this chemical from your system.
Please let me know.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006 11:59:52 AM
Anonymous said...

I have found that vinegar helps to fade "age spots" on the back of my hands. I tried this because the spots made my hands look dirty. It takes quite a while but it is safe and beneficial for the skin. Great for the face too because it corrects the acid balance making the skin very soft and reduces acne.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006 5:57:48 PM
Anonymous said...

My mother in law had such bad spotted arms she always wore long sleeve shirts even in summer.

Her dr. told her to put aloe vera lotion on her arms and it has helped a great deal.

Now she does wear short sleeved clothes. toni k.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006 2:07:14 AM
Diana said...

To Anonymous about the vinegar usage. How do you apply the vinegar for a long period of time on your face?
Tuesday, September 12, 2006 11:35:05 AM