By Angela Bekiaris
Did you ever think skin lightening would be as popular as it is today? But while we know people are addicted to tanning, people worldwide, especially celebs, are visiting the doctor to get a little lighter these days.
“One of the biggest trends in aesthetics at the moment is skin brightening, otherwise known as skin lightening or bleaching,” says Dr Nicole Kanaris, owner of Med Aesthetique in Greenstone, Johannesburg. “Many treatment options are available such as creams, lasers, peels, tablets and intravenous infusions of glutathione and vitamin C,” she explains, adding, “Our most popular and successful treatment at Med Aesthetique currently are our chemical peels paired with our Glutathione IV infusions. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant known to man. It reduces pigmentation and helps to even out skin tone. Regular intravenous infusions at one-week intervals together with oral glutathione helps to reduce pigment in the skin,” explains Kanaris. So while it seems most people use lighteners to treat skin problems such as freckles, age spots, acne scars, or discolouration related to hormones, many are starting to use it to simply lighten naturally dark skin.
Glutathione, says Dr Kanaris, is being used more and more these days for skin lightening, it has actually been produced and given to patients who suffer from health problems such as chronic fatigue, liver problems, heart disease with high cholesterol, thyroid problems, infertility in males, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cataracts or HIV. Today, stars such as Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Keri Hilson and Lil Kim have been said to be lightening their skin.
In fact, local beauty Khanyi Mbau told The Citizen that she has been lightening her skin for years. On why she started lightening her skin, Mbau revealed there was ‘something about a woman who looks brighter’, further sharing the benefits of skin lightening. Mbau added that the process ‘boosts your immune system so you don’t get a cold’ and is different to bleaching.
Lil Kim’s skin tone has changed drastically over the years, with experts revealing that her lightened skin could be a combination of lighting changes and make-up to make her appear whiter.
Make-up and lighting have been used as an explanation for Minaj’s change, too, however, others explain that this can only do so much. As for Queen B, many have noticed that it’s not just her hair colour which has gone lighter as she became a huge superstar. “Beyoncé’s skin lightening looks more like brightening than it does actually bleaching,” reveals an expert, who adds that you can see that she takes very good care of skin though, probably using a strong SPF for everyday sun protection. Bey, say insiders, is probably going the microdermabrasion or chemical peel route.
As for RiRi, insiders thinks she using a melanin blocking cream to fade away darker pigments, an perhaps a little Glutathione.
“Skin colour,”explains web.com, “is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment produced by specialised cells called melanocytes. People with dark skin have more melanin.” Skin bleaching, or lightening, is a cosmetic treatment which reduces the prominence of skin discolourations and evens out the colour of the skin. And while you can, in fact, buy bleaching creams over the counter, people are opting for the more medical options these days.
Of course, there are many risks involved, too. For one, the active ingredient in skin lighteners is mercury, which can lead to mercury poisoning.
While the US has reportedly banned the use of mercury, and uses hydroquinone instead, some skin lighteners use ingredients such as steroids and retinoic acid, which comes from vitamin A, and others use natural ingredients such as kojic acid – a compound that comes from a fungus – and arbutin, a compound found in various plants.
Other potential risks include premature ageing of the skin, the risk of skin cancer, skin infections, skin thinning, acne or an allergic reaction.
Dermatologygroup.com explains that there is actually no bleach involved in skin lightening. It is also used for cosmetic procedures such as hiding pigmentation, birth marks and moles, as mentioned above, and while skin lightening can have harmful side effects and be dangerous if abused, there are natural skin lightening options that exist, such as chemical-free and easy-to-find alternatives. For less extreme cases of skin tone unevenness, a simple peel or daily exfoliant may do the trick, they add, as well as toxin-free skin lightening products, which cost a little more but are worth it.
So if you’re looking to go a little lighter – for whatever reason – experts remind you to always chat to your doctor before trying anything new; always use sunscreen when using a skin lightener to avoid the risk of getting skin cancer; and to make sure the product does not contain mercury, or no more the two percent of hydroquinone.