Can Skin Bleaching be Done To Make My Skin Lighter Overall?

Q: I would like to have my skin tone more even. Due to the sun, my skin color on my face and neck is much darker than rest of my body. I was born with darker private areas as well as my butt. I am an African American with a yellow skin to light brown complexion similar to Beyonce complexion in the L-oreal ad.

A:  Skin lightening is a well known pharmacologic treatment that is well proven for the treatment of dark spots, primarily from aging and sun exposure on the face and hands, as well as reactive hyperpigmentation from injury or ablative skin treatments. Using established agents, such as hydroquinone and kojic acid, they work to inhibit the cells (melanocytes) that are responsible for creating the pigment in our skin. They are many combination products today that combine these pigment treatment agents with our adjunctive topicals such as exfoliants.

What you are referring to, however, is a more global color treatment of an area. Rather than treating a specific pigment problem, your quest is to lighten the base pigment in the skin. This has become recognized as a possibility by the plastic surgery exploits of Michael Jackson who definitely used skin lightening agents. While often conjectured, it is now proven after his untimely death last year after police investigations found many tubes of skin lightening creams. Whether he was treating a medical condition such as vitiligo or just overall lightening his skin is unclear.

The concept of skin lightening one’s base pigment is possible but is fraught with several concerns. First, it would take a lot of cream used continuously to create a lightening effect. Given the volume needed, one may be able to lighten small areas such as the face and neck but ot larger body regions. Second, how effective topical creams are for base pigment lightening is not a certainty. Lastly, these drugs do have side effects and the high doses done over a long time may have undesired effects that are not known. These topical creams were never designed and studied for a more overall skin bleaching effect.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana