Melanin is responsible for the color of human skin. (1) An increase in melanin production in the skin can cause tanning (1) in response to environmental stresses such as heat, pollution, and bacteria.
It is challenging to alter the level of melanin already present in the skin. There are, however, surefire methods of removing the tan and pigmentation that result from excessive sun exposure and other factors such as stress and the use of too much makeup.
Skin whitening and bleaching refer to the same treatment that uses chemicals to lighten your skin. The two treatment options are vastly different, but both whitening and bleaching products aim to reduce hyperpigmentation and reveal healthier-looking skin.
What Is Skin Whitening?
Skin whitening is often used for cosmetic or aesthetic purposes because it makes the skin appear more radiant and healthier. (1) It refers to the practice of making one’s skin tone lighter through the use of various treatment options, which might include creams, lotions, gels, or serums.
What Is Skin Bleaching?
Bleaching the skin is generally accepted for medical purposes, such as depigmentation of darker parts of the body due to aging or acne scarring.
Skin-lightening practices, such as the use of skin-lightening creams and soaps to achieve a lighter skin tone or to “whiten” skin, are common among Asian and non-White populations throughout the world. (3)
Difference Between Skin Whitening and Skin Bleaching
Here are the differences between skin whitening and bleaching.
1. Based on ingredients
Ingredients present in skin-whitening products
Mercury, steroids, hydroquinone, and other chemicals in skin-whitening products may provide some benefit to some extent. However, they may also harm the skin if used differently than as prescribed. (1)(4)
Natural ingredients in skin-whitening products
Natural skin-whitening ingredients include flavonoids, terpenoids, polysaccharides, and coumarin derivatives, which possess antimelanogenesis (inhibiting melanin production) functions. (5)
Ingredients in skin-bleaching products
Natural skin-bleaching ingredients
Natural ingredients that act as bleach agents are honey, milk, turmeric, gram flour, tender coconut milk, licorice, mint, asafetida, oranges and other citrus fruits, cucumber, almonds, papayas, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, milk thistle, carrots, and many others.
2. Based on side effects
Side effects of skin whitening
Hydroquinone is the active ingredient in skin whiteners. It can cause unwanted side effects such as leukoderma and exogenous ochronosis (which manifests as blue-black pigmentation as a complication of long-term use). Hydroquinone’s potential dangers were (5) widely speculated.
Severe itching, dryness, and cracking of the skin in case of over sensitive skin. (5) A disorder characterized by excessive skin pigmentation (melasma) and toxic mercury exposure, especially during pregnancy. Also, conditions like Cushing’s, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer of the skin have been linked to skin whitening agents. (7)
Side effects of skin bleaching
Skin bleaching can lead to allergic and irritant contact dermatitis, systematized contact dermatitis, eczema, and photosensitivity. There are still some women who bleach their skin despite knowing the risks. (2)
3. Based on benefits
Benefits of skin whitening
Skin whitening helps minimize dark spots, evens out skin tone, and reduces the appearance of acne scars.
Studies have shown that glutathione acts as a skin-whitening agent by reducing the amount of melanin in the skin; it also increases skin elasticity, decreases wrinkles, and improves skin tone and brightness. (8)(9)
Benefits of skin bleaching
Reducing the skin’s melanin production is one of the goals of skin bleaching. Removing melanin from the skin will leave it vulnerable to the sun’s rays, which can increase the risk of skin cancer and other sun-related illnesses in some women, especially if they do not take additional precautions to prevent sun damage, such as wearing sunscreen. (2)
Is Skin Whitening and Bleaching a Permanent Fix?
Neither skin whitening nor bleaching therapies are long-term solutions. Skin whitening products are only a temporary fix. They will deliver the desired outcomes, but when you stop using them, the effects will fade within a few weeks.
In the long run, skin bleaching won’t help with issues such as pigmentation on your skin. Moreover, bleaching your skin too often can be harmful, but the effects will last nearly four weeks if you take good care of your skin.
The recommended time between bleaching sessions is between 4 and 8 weeks.
Which Is Better for the Skin and What Is the Main Difference Exactly?
Skin lightening is also known as skin bleaching and skin whitening. (10) Skin bleaching is a term that was more popular in the 80s than it is today and is essentially the same as skin whitening.
Chemical bleaching is used to lighten the skin beyond its standard color to achieve a whiter complexion. People talking about “skin whitening” usually mean using products to lighten hyperpigmentation.
Skin bleaching products help to alter your skin’s natural color through the use of harsh and possibly harmful chemicals. Researchers found that both skin-whitening products (5) and skin-bleaching products (4) contain both naturally occurring bioactive compounds (5) and skin-lightening chemicals. (3)
It is reasonable to conclude that skin whitening is preferable to skin bleaching, according to the opinions of those in the know.
Science-Backed Evidence for Skin Whitening and Skin Bleaching
- About 15% of the global population spends money on skin-lightening products. (11)
- Investing in skin-lightening products is rising due to the expanding demand in Asian countries such as China, India, and Japan.
- African women are disproportionately represented in reports of skin bleaching for cosmetic purposes. (2) Many African countries began using skin bleaching as a form of cosmetic treatment in the 1950s, which has led to the widespread use of this procedure today. About 75% of Nigerian women and 60% of Senegalese women use bleaching creams; it is around 50% in Mali and 30% in Ghana, with similar rates across the whole of Africa. (12)
- About 52% of women in East Africa use skin-lightening products for pigmentary disorders, 38% prefer a lighter skin color, and 9% report both reasons. (12)
- In 2020, a bill prohibiting the advertising of skin-lightening products across India was signed into law by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- Since 1973, the FDA in the United States has prohibited the use of cosmetics containing mercury concentrations of more than 1 ppm. (12)
- One study found that the hyperpigmentation of 20 women with a clinical diagnosis of melisma was significantly reduced with liquiritin, a flavonoid glycoside of licorice. (5)
Why Do Women Bleach Their Skin?
When women were questioned about their motivations for skin bleaching, 49.38% of them said they bleached their skin so they would have smooth and healthy skin, 30.86% said they did so to improve their appearance, and the remaining women said they did so to gain social favors such as marriage and good jobs. (2)
Natural Skin Bleaching Agents
These ingredients have been to bleach the skin naturally:
- Milk: One of the most accessible products for skin lightening is raw milk. The production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color, is regulated by this gene. (13)
- Potatoes: Potatoes are rich in vitamin C (14) and have a mild bleaching property (15) They are a popular vegetable for skin lightening. They remove age spots and sun damage spots from the skin.
- Besan: Also called gram flour, besan has amazing effects when regularly applied to the skin. It can be used as an exfoliant to get rid of dead skin and bring out the skin’s natural glow. Besan can be used as a skin lightener. (15)
- Turmeric: Turmeric is abundant in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and is used to treat dull skin and improve overall complexion. (16)
What should I do if my skin has been damaged by skin whitening?
Hyperpigmentation due to skin-whitening products does not have a cure, and the resulting symptoms will be permanent.
Daily application of sunscreen is a straightforward way to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays. For severe itching and dry, cracked skin, emollients are helpful; a mild hydrocortisone cream may be used temporarily.
When dealing with skin damage from prolonged sun exposure, always seek medical attention from a qualified dermatologist. (7)
Is it possible for topical creams or pills to lighten the skin when taken orally?
Oral products do have the effect of bleaching the skin.
According to researchers, oral carotenoids, glutathione, melatonin, hydrophilic extract of Polypodium leucotomos, procyanidin, and tranexamic acid are just some of the many systemic therapies for skin lightening currently available. These oral treatments for hyperpigmentation are safe, and preliminary data are promising.
Note that intravenous glutathione should be avoided for skin lightening. (17)
What beverage can make the skin fairer?
All skin types can benefit from these three wonder drinks: Juice made from beets and carrots, a blend of green apple and pomegranate juice, and juice made from papaya, lemon, and cucumber.
Skin whitening and bleaching are one of the most common cosmetic practices worldwide. However, whitening products are generally used it to lighten specific areas of hyperpigmentation.
Contrast this with skin bleaching products which change the color of your natural skin and even lighten facial hair. Bleaching is achieved through the use of very harsh and possibly dangerous chemicals and is not recommended.
However, both have certain side effects and there is no complete safe or reliable way to lighten someone’s skin tone. But instead of bleaching, whitening is safer.
- Amodu MO, Bolori MT, Ahmad IM, Kale A, Kuchichi A. Knowledge, attitude and practice of skin whitening among female university students in northeastern Nigeria. Open Access Library Journal. https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=83813. Published April 4, 2018.
- Nyoni-Kachambwa P, Naravage W, James NF, Van der Putten M. A preliminary study of skin bleaching and factors associated with skin bleaching among women living in Zimbabwe. African health sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8356578/. Published March 2021.
- Benn EKT, Alexis A, Mohamed N, Wang Y-H, Khan IA, Liu B. Skin bleaching and dermatologic health of African and Afro-Caribbean populations in the US: New Directions for methodologically rigorous, multidisciplinary, and culturally sensitive research. Dermatology and therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5120641/. Published December 2016.
- (PDF) skin whitening science – researchgate.net. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337185433/.
- Qian W, Liu W, Zhu D, et al. Natural skin-whitening compounds for the treatment of melanogenesis (review). Experimental and therapeutic medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7271691/. Published July 2020.
- Owolabi JO, Fabiyi OS, Adelakin LA, Ekwerike MC. Effects of skin lightening cream agents – hydroquinone and kojic acid, on the skin of adult female experimental rats. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147621/. Published April 6, 2020.
- (PDF) review on Skin Whitening Agents – Researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249650287/.
- Sitohang IBS, Ninditya S. Systemic glutathione as a skin-whitening agent in adult. Dermatology research and practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7196133/. Published April 24, 2020.
- Smit N, Vicanova J, Pavel S. The hunt for natural skin whitening agents. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2801997/. Published December 10, 2009.
- Yusuf MA, Mahmoud ND, Rirash FR, Stoff BK, Liu Y, McMichael JR. Skin lightening practices, beliefs, and self-reported adverse effects among female health science students in Borama, somaliland: A cross-sectional survey. International journal of women’s dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6938842/. Published August 23, 2019.
- Pillaiyar T, Manickam M, Namasivayam V. Skin whitening agents: Medicinal chemistry perspective of tyrosinase inhibitors. Journal of enzyme inhibition and medicinal chemistry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6010116/. Published December 2017.
- Pollock S, Taylor S, Oyerinde O, et al. The Dark Side of Skin Lightening: An international collaboration and review of a public health issue affecting dermatology. International journal of women’s dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8072511/. Published September 17, 2020.
- Kazimierska K, Kalinowska-Lis U. Milk proteins-their biological activities and use in cosmetics and dermatology. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8197926/. Published May 28, 2021.
- Górska-Warsewicz H, Rejman K, Kaczorowska J, Laskowski W. Vegetables, potatoes and their products as sources of energy and nutrients to the average diet in Poland. International journal of environmental research and public health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8003722/. Published March 20, 2021.
- The Open Dermatology Journal – pdfs.semanticscholar.org. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1ca2/5c17343fd28d0dfa868e2abd0919f8e986dd.pdf.
- Turmeric, the golden spice – herbal medicine – NCBI bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/.
- The role of systemic treatments for skin lightening – juhasz – 2018 … https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jocd.12747.