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What is Skin Lightening?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 21, 2024
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Skin lightening is a term used to describe treatments or processes that lighten a person’s skin. Often, skin lightening creams and techniques are used to lighten dark spots on a person's face. Dark spots may develop because of acne, sun exposure, skin injury, or medical conditions. Some people, however, seek to lighten all of their skin to appear fairer. For aesthetic reasons, others try to lighten the naturally darker skin in the genital area.

Melanin is a substance the body produces that gives skin its color or pigment. People with darker skin have more melanin than those with lighter skin. Sometimes, the body produces too much melanin, which leads to an uneven skin tone. For example, age spots occur when sun exposure leads to the excess production of melanin, causing dark spots to form on the skin. This effect is often referred to as hyperpigmentation.

Typically, people turn to special creams for skin lightening. These creams, available both over-the-counter and by prescription, work by slowing melanin production in the skin. In a period of months, they help the dark spots to fade. Prescription skin lightening agents are usually stronger than over-the-counter creams. They may lighten faster and produce more pronounced results.

While there are many types of creams created for skin lightening, many of them include hydroquinone, a bleaching agent. These creams work in two ways. They prevent some of the melanin production in the area, and they deteriorate melanin already present in the skin. Most people use these creams without side effects, but others note skin irritation while using them. For example, some people notice reddening and itching of the skin.

Instead of using creams, some people visit dermatologists for procedures that help to eliminate dark spots. For example, chemical peels involve the use of an acidic substance to peel off the top layer of skin. This removes spots of hyperpigmentation along with the outermost skin cells. Laser resurfacing is another treatment that works similarly. For this treatment, a dermatologist uses a laser beam to destroy a person's epidermis, which is the top layer of skin.

Some people seek to lighten all of their skin in a certain area instead of just eliminating dark spots that cause their skin to appear uneven. They may do this because they feel lighter skin is more attractive. To achieve this, some apply lightening creams to their faces, rubbing it in all over instead of spot treating it. Others attempt chemical peels and laser treatments, with varying results.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a BeautyAnswered writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By burcidi — On Oct 05, 2013

@burcinc-- Try a skin lightening lotion with arbutin to spot treat those blemishes. I use one for age spots and it really works! It fades them over time.

By burcinc — On Oct 04, 2013

@alisha-- Skin lightening is a huge fad in Asia now. There are so many skin lightening products there and many Asian women use them. My friend went to South Asia and he said that he had a hard time finding a regular bar of soap there. He said that many of the soaps had skin lightening properties.

I don't necessarily want lighter skin but my body is several tones darker than my face and I think that looks weird. So I try to use exfoliating products and body lotion with vitamin C to naturally lighten my body to match my face.

I also have a lot of sun spots and I need to do something about those too.

By discographer — On Oct 04, 2013

My best friend has naturally dusky skin. I think she's beautiful but she's obsessed with her skin tone and wants lighter skin. She is using skin lightening treatments with hydroquinone regularly. I think this is dangerous and I keep warning her about it but she doesn't listen.

I once helped her use a hydroquinone cream all over her body because she was going to attend a wedding. That stuff is horrible! It made her skin burn and itch in just a few minutes and she was yelling at me to apply it quickly so that she can wash it off.

Everyone wants bright, luminous, beautiful skin but I don't think that it's necessary to go to this extent. Wearing sunscreen, exfoliating and moisturizing the skin should be enough.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a BeautyAnswered writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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