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Bleaching: Treatment, Cost and Side Effects

Last Updated: Nov 30, 2023

What is the Bleaching?

Bleaching is a treatment used to lighten the skin. Skin lightening products other than bleach includes, fading creams, skin brighteners and whiteners. Bleach works by reducing the natural pigment in the skin called melanin. This pigment is responsible for creating dark hues on our skin. People also use this skin lightening treatment to cure discoloration, acne scars, age spots and freckles related to hormonal changes. This technique is also used to lighten skin which is naturally dark. Bleach can also be risky, so it should be used with caution and under the guidance of a skin specialist. Skin colour is usually determined due to the amount of melanin present in the skin cells. People with dark skin have more melanin content than people with light skin. The amount of melanin in the skin is usually dependant on the genetic makeup. Exposure to some chemicals, skin damage, hormone and sunlight exposure can also affect the melanin content in your skin.

Most of the times, changes in our skin colour fades away with time such as tans. Sun tans can fade away with time if direct exposure to sunlight is decreased. But over time, some skin discolorations like liver spots and age spots become permanent. This is why bleaching is preferred by people who have these skin spots, bleaching can help to reduce the appearance of these spots by lightening the skin on the area.

How is the Bleaching treatment done?

Skin bleaching is a treatment which decreases the prominence of discolorations on the skin. It can also even out the skin colour. Most people have uneven skin tone due to sun tan or genetics, bleaching helps to give a uniform colour to the skin. Bleaching can be done from a professional saloon or bleaching creams can be easily brought over the counter. Many people apply bleach as a skin lightener on their entire body so that they can change their complexion completely, this can however be risky. The active ingredient in some bleaches contain mercury and the use of bleach without appropriate caution can result to mercury poisoning. Bleach contains a combination of ingredients which reduces melanin in the skin wherever it is applied.

The most widely used active ingredient in some skin lighteners is called hydroquinone. The FDA has regulated the used of hydroquinone and declared it more or less safe. Some over the counter bleaches contain around 2% of hydroquinone. Dermatologists and skin specialists usually prescribe skin lighteners or bleaches containing 4% to 6% hydroquinone. It is extremely important to consult a professional for the exact amount of hydroquinone required by your skin. Other than hydroquinone, some skin lighteners use natural ingredients like kojic acid (a compound which comes from a type of fungus), arbutin (a compound present in some plants), vitamin A, steroids and retinoic acid.

Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?)

People who have tanned or wheatish skin can go in for bleaching treatment. However, bleaching doesn’t work well for extremely dark skin. Since the melanin content in dark skinned people is very high, bleaching treatment doesn’t provide the desired results. Those who have been tanned due to sun exposure or have skin spots can try skin bleaching.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

Skin bleaching can sometimes cause skin allergies and may not be ideal for sensitive skin types. Those having extremely fragile, acne prone or allergy prone skin should stay away from bleaching treatments. Sometimes bleaching can also burn off the top layer of the skin if applied on sensitive skin. For this health risk, a patch test should be done on your skin first.


Are there any side effects?

Bleaching can have certain side effects and the most dangerous risk is the exposure to mercury. According to a study, 1 out of 4 skin lighteners which is made in Asia contain some amount of mercury. Prolonged exposure to bleaching can cause premature aging and skin sagging. Long term use or excessive use of bleach on the skin can increase your chances of developing skin cancer due to sun exposure. It is important to use a sunscreen after using bleaching treatment while going out in the sun. Skin lighteners may also contain steroids which can cause a lot of health problems as a result of steroids being absorbed by the body. Hydroquinone found in bleach can also result to untreatable and unwanted skin discoloration known as ochronosis. The most common side effect of bleaching includes skin itching, irritation and burning caused due to some allergic reaction with the bleach. Therefore, it is necessary to take some precautions and safety measures while using bleaching treatment to lighten your skin.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

If you are using bleaching to even out your skin tone or lighten your skin colour, it is important to take the advice of a doctor before buying an over the counter bleaching cream. You need to follow the instructions given in the pack if you are bleaching your skin at home. The bleach should not be left on the skin more than the prescribed time given in the packet. Keeping it for a much longer time might burn your skin and it will have an opposite reaction on your skin colour. You should also make sure, the product doesn’t have any mercury in it otherwise it can have an allergic reaction on your skin leading to mercury poisoning. It is not recommended to bleach your skin at regular intervals. You should take a break from bleaching and give your skin time to breathe and heal. Excessive bleaching is also harmful for the skin.

How long does it take to recover?

Bleaching doesn’t take a long time to perform. It can take a few minutes if it is done at home or in the saloon. After the pigment is absorbed in the skin, the bleach has to be removed with lukewarm water and soap.

What is the price of the treatment in India?

A full body skin bleaching treatment can cost anywhere between Rs.1,50,000 to Rs.2,00,000.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

Bleaching is not permanent, the effects can be temporary until the next bleaching session. Pigments which are present in bleaching creams are not strong and contain less amount of hydroquinone, which is why the treatment has to be repeated after some time.

What are the alternatives to the treatment?

There are other alternatives to bleaching such as chemical peels, skin lightening overnight creams and laser treatments. Sometimes, home remedies such as turmeric, tomato, yogurt and fuller’s earth paste is also applied on the skin for lightening it and reducing the appearance of blemishes.


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Written ByDr. Shaurya Rohatgi MD - Dermatology , Venereology & Leprosy,MBBSDermatology
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