Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Throughout time and across many cultures, a whiter facial complexion has been equated with beauty. In various countries, studies show that men prefer women with lighter skin. Many women strive for a fairer skin color which they equate with good looks, status, and a higher self esteem.
All over the world, the demand for whitening products continues to rise. The market for skin lightening has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry and these products can now be found almost anywhere. Unfortunately, whitening the face is not as simple as applying cream on it.
This article will tell you the basics behind skin color and the many factors which influence it. It will teach you how skin lighteners work, and will give you ten facial whitening tips that you can apply every day.
What Causes Skin Color?
Skin color is caused by pigments produced by the skin. The most important skin pigment is melanin. They are made by melanocytes, a special type of cell found deep in the skin.
These cells convert an amino acid called tyrosine into melanin, requiring the action of an enzyme called tyrosinase to do this. Melanin comes in two forms; a lighter, yellowish Pheomelanin and a darker brown to black Eumelanin.
Melanin is then brought up to the upper layers of the skin where they stay, until they are shed as part of dead skin cells. Those stored in deeper parts of the skin take more time to fade.
The more melanin there is in the skin, the darker it becomes. It serves to protect the skin against the harmful rays of the sun. Lighter skinned persons have a higher risk of getting skin cancer, as much as 15 times greater than those with darker skin color.
Everyone has almost the same number of melanocytes in their skin. What differs between people is how active their melanocytes are, and the type of melanin that they make. The single most crucial factor that influences this is heredity.
Your genes determine how active your melanocytes are. Up to 125 different genes determine skin complexion. This causes the wide variation in color between people of different descent.
How Do Other Factors Affect Facial Pigmentation?
Although heredity is the main determinant of skin color, many other things can affect melanin production, such as:
The most important external factor that affects skin color is ultraviolet light exposure. Melanin is your skin’s natural defense against the bad effects of the sun. Depending on how much and how long you are exposed, the skin reacts by producing melanin to filter out UV light.
Brief exposure can cause immediate tanning, where melanin gets darker but their number remains the same. This takes just hours to days to resolve.
In cases of long and heavy UV light exposure, the activity and number of melanocytes increase. It may take months for skin color to go back to normal.
Sun exposure can also cause dark spots on the face. Sun spots or liver spots result from long term sun exposure and is also linked to aging. Freckles are more common in people with fair skin, and are seen in sun exposed areas like the face.
Many illnesses can also lead to skin darkening. These include diseases of the adrenal glands, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, liver disease and some types of cancers. If you notice any strange changes in your skin color, it is always best to consult with your doctor.
Melasma is common in pregnant women and those taking oral contraceptive pills. These are big, dark brown patches in the face, often found on the cheeks, forehead and over the nose. They are caused by high levels of estrogen in the body, which triggers increased melanocyte activity.
Some drugs can also cause increased melanin production. These include certain types of anti-seizure drugs, painkillers, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and heavy metals. They are found in sun exposed areas like the face and the arms.
Skin injury and inflammation cause the release of substances which speed up the rate of melanin production. They cause dark spots in the damaged areas, which is called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
It can be caused by many skin conditions like eczema, chemical damage and acne. These spots may take up to months and years to fade.
Skin lighteners and chemical peels, if not used properly, can do more harm than good.
They can irritate and damage the skin leading to more pigmentation. Many women have suffered from darker skin after the use of such products.
Hydroquinone, a popular skin lightener, can cause on ochronosis, which is a bluish black discoloration of the skin and tissues
Although dry skin in itself does not make skin darker, it makes skin prone to itchiness, irritation and trauma. These can lead to skin damage and darkening.
Obesity can cause many skin problems that lead to darker skin. People who are obese tend to have increased sex hormone levels which cause acne. Obesity also leads to acanthosis nigricans, a velvety thickening and darkening of the skin. Although it is more common in skin folds such as the armpits and neck, it can also be seen on the face.
Smoking And Pollution
Smoke and air pollution increase the amount of free radicals in the body which are harmful to skin cells. They damage melanocytes, and cause abnormal melanin production.
They also weaken the skin defenses, making it prone to sun damage. Smoking has also been known to cause early skin aging.
Good nutrition is important for skin health. Certain vitamins and minerals are needed by the body to fight harmful free radicals. They also play a key role in wound repair and production of new skin. Poor nutrition hastens the effects of skin aging and damage caused by other factors.
How Do Skin Lighteners Whiten The Face?
Now that you know how skin color is produced and the factors that affect it, it is easier to understand how skin lighteners work.
These products function in one or more ways to decrease the amount of melanin in the skin.
Drugs that target the enzyme tyrosinase are the most frequently used types of skin lighteners. They can be synthetic or derived from plant extracts and include:
- Hydroquinone is the gold standard for skin lighteners. It lowers the activity of tyrosinase by as much as 90 percent. Prescription formulations have up to 4 percent concentration and work well in skin lightening.
Over the counter products are not as effective, with less than 2 percent concentration. Its use has decreased over the years because of side effects like on ochronosis.
- Arbutin is a plant extract found in berries, wheat and pears. It is similar to hydroquinone but is less toxic.
You should still be careful when using products with arbutin, because changes in pH can transform it to hydroquinone.
- Kojic acid is a natural compound from a certain species of fungi. It also works as an antioxidant. It often causes skin irritation and allergies, which limits its use.
- Azelaic acid is a compound derived from a type of yeast. It competes with tyrosinase, and slows melanocyte action. It is used to treat melasma and acne.
- Licorice extract has long been used in ancient Chinese medicine. It contains glabridin, which inhibits tyrosinase. It also spreads out melanin, creating a more even skin tone.
- Retinoic acid is a derivative of vitamin A, which inhibits tyrosinase. It also causes peeling and spreads out melanin in the skin. Tretinoin, adapalene and isotretinoin are common examples. It is contraindicated during pregnancy.
UV radiation and other factors that produce free radicals damage the skin and increase pigmentation. Topical antioxidants fight these effects. These include Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin B complex.
Prevention Of Melanin Transport To The Upper Layers Of The Skin
Another way to lighten the skin is to prevent pigment transport to the epidermis. Niacinamide and soy milk are the most common agents used for this function.
Removal Of The Upper Skin Layers
Chemical peels work by removing the top layers of the skin, which contain melanin. The most common forms of chemicals used include Alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic and lactic acid and Beta hydroxy acid such as salicylic acid.
Physical methods of peeling can also be used such as diamond peels.
Skin lightening begins with healthy, well-nourished skin. It requires good skin care, a healthy lifestyle and avoidance of the common causes of skin darkening. These face whitening tips will help you achieve lighter, glowing and younger looking skin.
- Sun Protection
Now that you know what UV light does to skin, you should take extra care to avoid its harmful effects. Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and reapply a few times during the day. Wear barriers like hats and protective clothing.
- Avoid Harmful Drugs
Be wise when using medications. Only take drugs prescribed by your doctor, and ask about their side effects.
- Eat Healthy
A healthy diet and multivitamin supplementation can work wonders for your skin. Eat foods rich in antioxidants like Vitamins A, C and E and B complex. Minerals like selenium, copper and zinc are also important. Remember that variety is the key. Eating a healthy balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables provides all the vital nutrients for healthy skin.
- Drink Lots Of Water
Keep hydrated by drinking at least six to eight glasses of water a day, and more in warmer climates. Limit the intake of caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate the skin.
Moisturizers serve as a barrier on the top layer of the skin to prevent moisture loss and skin dryness. Use hypoallergenic, unscented moisturizers to avoid irritation.
Enough exercise promotes blood circulation, providing skin with lots of nutrients and oxygen. It also prevents obesity, which can cause skin darkening.
- Don’t Smoke
Smoking increases free radicals that damage the skin, increase pigmentation and cause skin aging.
- Avoid Stress
Make time for restful sleep and relaxation. Stress hormones can trigger hormonal imbalances which can cause hyperpigmentation.
- Stop Picking Your Skin
Acne and allergic reactions can leave behind dark spots, especially when they are scratched or picked.
- Don’t Experiment With Your Skin
Remember that some skin lighteners can cause hyperpigmentation if not used properly. Only use products approved by your dermatologist.
There are many ways to keep your face looking bright and beautiful, so try some of these tips or a combination of them, but do be careful not to cause damage in the process. If you have any questions about a product or technique, be sure to ask your doctor for advice. Your skin can look and be healthy with a little bit of time and these top face whitening tips.