8 Bad Effects of Skin Whitening (Skin Bleaching)

Michael Jackson skin whitening

The aim of skin whitening is to obtain a more even skin tone and to lighten any sun damaged and age spots. This is a highly achievable aim with the right amount of supervision from an expert (dermatologist). However, in most cases, skin whitening products are applied without any expert advice nor supervision leading mostly to unwanted results.

The use of fairness creams have long been associated with being discriminatory, racist and an inferiority complex. Nonetheless, the unsupervised use of skin whitening creams may land you in far more serious problems. These problems can stem from the fact that the formulations of most of these skin whitening creams/products are shrouded in mystery and awareness of their hazardous effects is low.

The aim of this post is to point out 8 damaging effects of skin whitening, especially if it is not done under proper supervision.

Skin Cancer

Skin whitening creams contain mainly 2 chemicals; Hydroquinone or Mercury. But, most creams sold in the market are a dangerous cocktail of compounds like steroids and tretinoin, alongside hydroquinone. These compounds have carcinogenic properties and long term use can lead to lethal health concerns like skin cancer and liver damage.

Skin cancer


Using hydroquinone in doses higher than 2% or for periods longer than 3 months will lead to darkening of the skin (exogenous ochronosis) which is permanent and very resistant to further treatment. Over-usage of skin whitening products can also cause hyper-pigmentation at the level of the fingers, toes, ears and other extremities, causing them to look darker and mismatched.

Skin Bleached Fingers

Bleach Panda Effect

Another negative effect can develop known as the “Bleach Panda Effect”. What happens here is that the skin around the eyes become thinned and have increased pigmentation, This is cute on a Panda but definitely not on a human.

Bleach panda effect

Thinning of the skin

Repeated use of skin whitening creams may cause thinning of the skin. This condition is characterized by severe bruising, exposed capillaries (capillaries/veins can easily be seen and are close to the skin), stretch marks and other serious skin problems.

Skin thinning

Skin Healing Properties

Normal and undamaged skin has the ability to heal itself and regenerate skin cells through 4 processes: Haemostasis (blood clotting), Inflammation, Proliferation (growth of skin tissue) and Maturation (remodeling). When the skin is subjected to heavy and/or continuous doses of the chemicals in skin whitening creams, it looses its ability to heal. Hence, injuries, lesions or rashes are much difficult to treat.

Skin healing process

Skin Irritations

The way hydroquinone works is it inhibits the enzyme reaction that causes the production of dark pigments (melanin). Unfortunately, hydroquinone is a fairly caustic substance which generally causes skin irritations like redness, peeling of the skin, rash, dryness and burning.

Skin irritation

Worsening of Skin Infections

According to several studies, notably one conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the Institut d’Hygiène Sociale, Dakar – Senegal and published in the 2003 British Journal of Dermatology; people who suffer from skin diseases like acne, dermatitis and eczema are adversely affected by skin bleaching/whitening creams. The study also found that hydroquinone caused worsening or the introduction of skin diseases.
Furthermore, most skin whitening creams contain steroids which when used on acne (pimples) can block the pores and lead to the development of new acne.

Skin infection

Mercury Poison

One of the more serious risks of unsupervised and continuous use of skin whitening creams is Mercury Poison. According to the WHO, mercury poisoning can cause the following:

  • Kidney damage
  • Skin rashes
  • Skin discoloration and scarring
  • Reduction in skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections
  • Anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy (damage of peripheral nerves)
  • Nephrotic syndrome (a condition marked by high levels of protein in urine)
Mercury poisoning

So next time when you are indecisive about skin bleaching, think about these side effects and make the right decision.