Fairer and lighter complexion has become a standard in our society with advertisements, marking dark-skinned people as ‘depressed’ or ‘unsuccessful’, emphasizing the belief even more. Beauty brands play on both people’s insecurities about their skin tones and their obsession with fairness to create multi-million-dollar industries. Fairness creams are a major product of choice there that promise to help us achieve lighter skin. But is this screaming demand for skin-lightening products posing a risk to our skin and health? What do they actually contain, and how to select them without causing harm to yourself? Let us discover the real truth behind this ‘fairness revolution.’
The Fascination with Fairness
Our longing for a fair complexion has been going on since the age of Cleopatra. The fascination got amplified even a hundred times in the last decade, resulting in the launch of an avalanche of fairness creams in the market. The elusive search for fair and flawless skin not only gave rise to a booming cosmetic industry but also contributed to the development of advanced skin-lightening methods (dermabrasion, ultrasound, laser therapies, etc.).
The Truth About Fairness
Before digging into the details of fairness creams, we will talk about the reality of fairness. Scientists have proved that human complexion is nothing but the result of race and genetic constitution. It determines the amount and structure of melanin (a pigment that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes). Bad diet, levels of stress, and environmental factors also have an impact on it. However, cosmetic products can lighten our skin tone only by 20% and not more than that. Hence, fairness creams can only reduce tan and restore the skin’s natural tone by blocking sun rays and averting the secretion of melanin. They cannot change the natural skin color of a person and make her fair.
Dermal melanin is a polymeric, amorphous, and non-proteinaceous pigment, which is produced in the skin from the cells called melanocytes through the biochemical procedure named melanogenesis. It is the level of activity of melanocytes rather than their quantity, which determines the skin tones of people. (1)
What are Fairness Creams?
Well, fairness creams, as you all know, are skin creams that claim to lighten, brighten, and most importantly, whiten the skin. They are highly popular in Asian nations, where a lighter complexion is considered a standard for beauty. Fairness creams are categorized as OTC drugs, quasi-drugs, and cosmetics in the USA, EU, and Japan. They are also supposed to contain no toxic components, causing no harmful effects on the skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes upon direct and prolonged applications.
How Do Fairness Creams Work?
Before digging into the facts of how fairness creams affect us and how we can avoid the adverse effects, let us take a look at how these products actually work. Fairness creams consist of skin-lightening actives obtained from both biological and synthetic sources. These are usually categorized into chemical tyrosinase inhibitors, botanical extracts, antioxidants, vitamins (A, B3, B5, C, E), peptides, and alpha and beta hydroxyl acids (AHA and BHA or fruit acids) and derivatives. Studies have found that the skin lightening agents cause depigmenting activity on human skin through certain chemical reactions. Most of the fairness creams work in any of the following ways:
- Averting tanning by protecting from the harmful UV rays of the sun
- Inhibiting melanin-producing enzyme called Tyrosinase by limiting or blocking the formation of melanocytes
- Inducing exfoliation or shedding of the outer layers of the stratum corneum
- Speeding up the turnover rate as well as the proliferation of keratinocytes
- Interfering in the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes to keratinocytes
What Do Fairness Creams Contain?
While most companies claim to manufacture fairness creams with ‘safe and tested ingredients’ that ‘comply with global standards of safety’ and ‘offer proven results’, the findings are very different in reality. As effective skin lightening agents, most fairness creams use ingredients like hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid, and so on (2). But, unfortunately, they also use large amounts of heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, lead, cobalt, antimony, cadmium, nickel, and chromium), preservatives, steroids, and synthetic fragrances. Being highly toxic, these heavy metal impurities like mercury salts, lead acetate, etc., are even banned in the USA and EU cosmetic industries.
Fairness creams can be both prescription drugs and OTC (over-the-counter) products. However, none of them is designed to be used for a stretch of 2-3 months.
Also Read – Best Fairness Face Washes in India – Top 7 Picks
Potential Risks of Fairness Creams
So now, let us reveal the dark side of fairness creams that marks these products ‘potentially unsafe’. The unethical practice of adding hazardous substances turns them into ‘a question of safety’. A number of studies have shown that frequent and prolonged usage of fairness creams may affect both our skin and health significantly in the long run. Here is how a fairness cream can ruin your skin with its active chemical compounds:
- Causes adverse effects including allergic reactions, dizziness, breathing problems, itching, etc.
- Leads to the serious damage of several systems in the body (gastrointestinal system, renal system, nervous system, etc.)
- Makes the facial skin thinner by impacting its elasticity negatively
- Steals the natural color of the face by making the capillaries prominently visible
- Stimulates the formation of severe acne throughout the skin
- Turns the skin highly photosensitive, which may result in skin cancer too
- Accelerates the process of tanning
- Promotes the growth of unwanted facial hair
- Causes blemishes, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and rebound paradoxical pigmentation
- Gives rashes, sunburns, eruptions, inflammation, and even a burning sensation
How to Pick the Safest Product?
The beauty industry has no dearth of fairness creams to offer to us. But we need to be careful while picking one from them to steer clear of skin and health disorders. So, here are the ways to find out the perfect fairness cream that will be safe and effective for you:
- Always do research before spending on a fairness cream. First, go through the ingredient label to determine whether the product contains harmful chemicals like mercury, hydroquinone, steroids, retinoic acid, kojic acid, etc. Creams with such bleaching agents should be skipped at any cost.
- Try to hit upon fairness creams with herbal or natural ingredients, such as shea butter, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, pure honey, licorice, etc. These would lighten your skin tone without adverse effects, thereby giving healthy and bright skin naturally.
Words of Caution
No matter how safe your fairness cream is, you must be careful about its usage. It is advised that you use such products only under the guidance and supervision of a certified dermatologist. This will reduce the risks of experiencing side effects. Fairness creams prescribed by dermatologists can, however, be used more liberally.
Our longing for fair and flawless skin has given rise to a booming cosmetic industry along with many advanced skin-lightening methods. But it has been proved that human complexion is the result of race and genetic constitution. Skin lightening products can not completely or permanently alter without causing any harmful effects on the body and skin. However, fairness creams can lighten our skin by only 20% while reducing tan and restoring its natural tone. They contain skin-lightening actives (hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid, etc.) from biological and synthetic sources, which cause depigmenting activity to some extent on human skin through certain chemical reactions. But heavy metal impurities, steroids, preservatives, etc., used in such fairness creams are hazardous for our skin and health. Frequent and prolonged use of these products may damage internal systems, cause thinner and discolored skin, promote unwanted facial hair, allergic reactions, rashes, dizziness, photosensitivity, breathing problems, itching, etc. So, always research and choose fairness creams with natural or herbal ingredients for the safest bet.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Do Fairness Creams Cause Cancer?
Fairness creams containing mercury and chromium in large amounts may cause cancer as they increase toxicity in the body and damage several systems inside.
Does Fairness Cream Really Work?
Fairness creams are effective only up to some extent (20%). We generally cannot bring dramatic changes to our complexion and skin tone.
Can I Use Fairness Cream at Night?
Yes, you can apply fairness cream right before sleeping and let it work overnight as long as the formulation chosen is safe for both skin and health.
Can We Apply Moisturizer Before Fairness Cream?
You should always apply a good moisturizer before using your fairness cream. This will ensure enough hydration for your skin and lock the moisture in it.
Which Vitamin is Good for Skin Glow?
The antioxidant vitamin C is the best for achieving naturally fair and glowing skin.
- “Fairness Via Formulations: A Review of Cosmetic Skin-Lightening Ingredients”, ResearchGate.net
- “Skin Lightening Creams: A Question of Safety”, EverydayHealth.com