Skin whitening: why, where, how?

Skin color has always been a big matter of concern for women. It is worth noting that this is associated with the endless desire of the human being to be able to change its body to look different and more beautiful according to the societal norms.

Decades and centuries ago, having the palest skin was a goal everyone aimed to reach in many countries. The skin color was indeed a symbol of nobleness and high society, as the laborers and workers from the low class society had to spend hours in the fields and therefore got tanned very easily. This phenomenon was spread all over the world, from Europe to America, and also through Asia with people working in rice fields.

Although this enthusiasm for pale skin has been forgotten nowadays in the occidental regions, with the desire to be tanned to look healthy and wealthy, depigmentation is still a frequent practice in certain areas of the world. « Snow white » and luminous skin is very trendy in all the Asian countries. “Xeesal” in Senegal – is today a common depigmentation trend, above all in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Where does this practice come from?
Skin depigmentation and whitening seems to be more a desire to fit in a certain social category symbolizing fashion, seduction, urbanity and femininity, rather than to be accepted in society. This is also due to a group phenomenon, and some women tend to practice depigmentation because their friends, mothers or sisters do so. It is used in order to reach a certain conception of beauty in our civilization.
Some women also practice topical depigmentation of their hands and face because of brown spots, which can appear with age (called age spots of UV spots). Some use laser treatments by their dermatologists to remove the spots more rapidly.

How does it work?
When our skin receives UV, it starts to produce melanin that gives skin its brown color. To stop this process, there are two solutions:
     – Women can protect their skin with umbrellas, hats or gloves to avoid the activation of melanin production. Alternatively they use cosmetic products with sun filters, which play the role of stopping UV rays on the skin.
     – If skin is already pigmented (either naturally or after a sun exposure), women use cosmetic products containing active molecules such as kojic acid, arbutine or vegetal extracts (such as lemon or cucumber ones rich of Vitamin C) that hinder the process of melanin production and/or stimulate the exfoliation of the skin to eliminate the surface cells containing melanin. These products, which need to be applied on the skin once or twice a day, are safe, efficient and produce visible brightening results. Recent and more sophisticated molecules have been introduced in the market to get better, safer and faster results. Such products are not only stopping the melanin synthesis process, but they also block the existing melanin to prevent its migration to the surface of the skin.

Products to avoid
Some other depigmenting solutions exist, but are rather dangerous. These practices consist of applying some drastic bleaching products over the whole body (a very small minority of women only apply these products on the visible parts of their bodies), at least twice a day. The products can be used alone or mixed together. They are either from the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, with components such as hydroquinone and dermocorticoids, or from handmade production with mercury derivatives. These techniques are radical and only rarely used. However due to their well-known health drawbacks (infections, severe irritation, irreversible skin damages) they must be avoided.

Be rational!
Skin whitening, done by means of laser or cosmetic products, is basically decreasing the skin’s own protection against sun. So if you decide to brighten, lighten or whiten your skin, don’t forget to stay away from sun light, or to use cosmetic product with sun filters to protect your skin from premature aging!