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Risks of Skin Whitening

Page history last edited by ecop 10 years, 11 months ago


The Risks and Effects of Skin Whitening

By: Alexa Tan 





Description and Rationale



Since moving to the Philippines, it is obvious that skin whitening is a part of the culture and part of the daily regimen to many Filipinos. Having fair, light skin is a goal to many Asians and the skin lightening remedies are advertised everywhere, radio stations, billboards and basically all over the media. Somehow lighter skin makes these people “better” than those of darker skin. I thought long and hard about this, and some of the things that crossed my mind were 

è “Is skin whitening harmful?”

è “Could this cause health problems in the near future?”

è “What are the ingredients really doing to lighten the skin?”

è “Is skin cancer associated with skin whitening?”


Skin whitening is linked with ingredients such as hydroquinone, which is known to be associated with cancer, mercury, and steroids. Over extensive periods of time, the harmful ingredients begin to take a toll to the user’s body.

The most common side effects of hydroquinone are irritation and a burning sensation but could it cause something more in the near future? Mercury also should not be taken regularly; too much mercury intake ultimately leads to kidney failure.

Skin whitening is such a vital part of society here in the Philippines and all over Asia. My question is: Is skin whitening actually damaging to your health? If so, then many Filipinos have been subjecting themselves to future sickness just to have the appearance of looking “whiter”.  My project will focus on the affordable facial creams that are most available to Filipinos in drugstores such as Watson’s. I will research the harsh effects of these ingredients on the health of the “user” in later years. 

            The initial purpose of this project will be to research and uncover the harmful effects of skin whitening and it’s ingredients primarily in the affordable facial creams that are readily available to all Filipinos. I will research through literature, the Internet, as well as through firsthand observations and interviews with regular Filipinos and my dermatologist. These initial findings will help guide the experimental phase, where key ingredients of skin whitening will be further explored.

            It is hoped that the new findings of the harshly abused skin whitening facial creams will help make those who use skin whitening creams aware of the health risks they are exposing themselves to.



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The organ system involved with my ECOP project is the integumentary system, which is more commonly known as skin. An organ system is a partnership of two different types of tissue that work together to achieve a shared intention. Skin is the biggest organ on the human body. The skin guards the muscle and other organs that lie beneath. One of the most vital roles of the integumentary system is to protect the body from pathogens* a disease producer/germ.



Skin is responsible for 16% of your body weight, and it has a surface area of two square meters. The integumentary system is composed of three layers: the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis.




The outermost layer is the epidermis. This layer is made of epithelial tissue. The cells are securely crammed together and this exposed layer acts as a shielding barrier that protects the inner organs and muscles from the outside. This layer spans several strata and holds four different cell types. The Keratinocytes construct keratin, which is the protein that makes the skin flexible and strong, it also waterproofs the exterior of the skin. Melanocytes manufacture melanin, which is the dark tint that gives the skin coloring. The Merkel’s cells are somewhat responsible for touch reaction. Langerhans’ cells aid the immune system by dealing with the antigens (foreign bodies).

The deepest of all the layers in the epidermis is the stratum basale. This is one layer of cells that sit on the basement membrane (the layer that defines the dermis from the epidermis). New cells are formed constantly while the old ones raise to the surface of the skin. There is no exact blood supply-all the nutrient is distributed by the dermis. And only the lowest cells located in the stratum basale obtain nourishment. Desquamation is the process that takes place when the old cells get to the surface of the skin and are sloughed off.

The next stratum up is the stratum spinosum. These cells are closely associated and support the skin. The middle layer, stratum granulsom is thin and begins keratinization (the production of keratin). The stratum lucidum is a shield against the ultra violet rays, which the sun gives off (doesn’t appear on face). Finally, the stratum corneum is the outermost layer- a dense row of dead cells, which include delicate keratin (helps with the skin’s elasticity and the cells below from dryness).



The connective tissue below the epidermis is the dermis layer. This layer is where the blood vessels lie. This layer is also where the nerve tissue that allows the sense of feeling. The dermis layer also includes muscle tissue, for example goose bumps are the work of the muscle tissue within the dermis layer of skin.  Hair follicles, glands and lymphatic tissue are also found in the dermis.

            The dermis has two layers, the papillary layer and reticular layer. Both layers are very similar and it is often tricky to differentiate which is which. The papillary layer is located directly below the epidermis. This layer has a loosely connected tissue structure. This layer is where most of the Meissner’s corpuscles are found. Meissner’s corpuscles are responsible for being able to feel the sense of touch.  The reticular layer is made up of braided collagen fibers that make up a strong elastic base called “cleavage lines”. This layer also contains Pacinian corpuscles, which are the sensors that feel deep pressure. It also contains the sweat glands, lymph vessels, smooth muscle and hair follicles.



The third layer is the hypodermis. It is made up of adipose tissue, commonly known as fat. This layer helps conserve heat in the body and acts as insulation from cold weather. In this layer the bases of hair follicles and sweat glands are found and some blood vessels and lymph vessels can also be located in the hypodermis.


Skin Coloring

            The attendance of melanin, carotene and the reflection of blood are causes of a skin’s coloring. Carotene makes the yellow pigment into orange. Exposure to the sun makes the body produce more melanin in the skin resulting in a suntan, which is a temporary change in skin tone. Melanin also helps keep the skin from burning from the excessive ultra violet rays. Too much exposure to the sun is hazardous because it increases the risk of skin cancer because it affects the genetics of the skin cells.

            The more melanin is produced by melanocytes, the darker the skin color. But, the race of the person does not reflect how much melanin is produced. For example, Asian skin has a higher amount of carotene in the stratum corneum and it produces a yellow tint. Some people are albino meaning the skin does not produce melanin at all leaving them very white. Skin color varies mainly because of genetics.



Protection-Good Upkeep for Healthy Skin

            A healthy balanced diet will help with the complexion of skin. The diet should consist of lots of vitamins, minerals and protein. A good amount of water is also recommended to keep skin glowing (6-8 glasses a day).

            To have good healthy skin, daily proactive maintenance is necessary. A good cleansing at the end of the day washes away all the dirt and oil that has been piled up over a days adventures. Sun block is highly advised because it adds protection against the sun’s damaging UV rays.


Whitening-Relevance to ECOP 

            In attempt to lighten skin chemically, many turn to skin whitening products. Advertisers use eye catching words and phrases like: “Easy!” “Whitening Breakthrough!” “…Achieve Complete Fairness!” etc. to sell their product to the public.

            Either it’s an issue with self-appearance and self-esteem or racial supremacy etc. having fair skin has been an obsession of many Orientals especially Filipinos.

 The integumentary system is the base on which the whitening products take action. The knowledge of the integumentary system is necessary to know how the chemicals work on the skin. The product I would like to focus on is: skin whitening facial cream. Skin whitening creams basically prevents the integumentary system from producing melanin with specially formulated chemicals. Side effects may occur in this process and I would like to explore the long-term effects of these chemicals on the skin- and it’s harmfulness.

The product I am focusing on: Garnier Light Complete Whitening Cream


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Potential Solutions


Is whitening harmless or harmful? It has been found by many researchers that certain whitening agents are harmful and others are not so.  After extensive research I uncovered three possible solutions to the use of whitening skin creams. I have learned that natural solutions whitening agents are the safest. Skin whitening has been such an essential part of so many Filipinos’ lives that even with the research and evidence provided of its harmfulness-many Filipinos will still continue on with whitening. So rather than stating: “Whitening should be completely extracted from one’s daily routine…” I will instead present possible solutions on how to SAFELY whiten skin.

Below are three possibilities with an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages for each. Along with each possibility is an up to date status report of progress made to date on each of the possibilities.



Possibility 1: READ THE LABEL

            When purchasing a skin whitening cream read the label thoroughly. Check the ingredients listed. Creams that either have a mercury base, include hydroquinone, include steroids, have hormonal preparations or hydrogen peroxide should be avoided completely. These ingredients in the long run will damage more than just the skin- they can be detrimental to your health. These ingredients can cause neurological damage, kidney and liver damage/failure, psychiatric disorders, premature aging, mercury poisoning, skin cancer and even leukemia! The cheapest and fastest working creams are often the most harmful.



  1. Reading the label will save yourself from damaging your health. Skin whitening products can be found all over the Philippines in many different shapes and forms. They can be found in local street side stores, SM department stores and supermarkets, drugstores such as Watson’s etc. Stopping to read the label will save a lot of future discomfort.


  1. It could be a scam. Reading the label carefully is important because the product is going to be applied to the face and body. If the product doesn’t work or irritates the skin then the money was put to waste.



  1. Often in the Philippines, a salesperson will unceasingly try to get a customer to buy their product. These “specialists” will say anything to sell and often present convincing arguments to the buyer. Often customers give in and buy the product, rather than reading the label, trusts the believable words of the salesperson.


  1. Most of the Filipinos who buy low-cost skin whitening agents are usually not as well informed of the dangerous ingredients of these products. Not many civilians know what to look for in a skin whitening product and usually just buy the cheapest solution.  Due to the lack of knowledge about skin whitening products, most Pinoys would not know which ingredients are bad and which are good. They instead look at the price tag and ignore the label.


  1. Most skin whitening products are printed with influential phrases and sayings in big credible fonts, from this it lures a buyer in, while the ingredients label is printed in small barely there font. Therefore, a potential buyer most likely would skip reading the label



            It has been tested and proven that the uses of natural solutions to lighten skin are safer. For example, lemons have natural skin bleaching agent in its juice and has been proven to lighten the appearance of skin. Vitamin C is also proven to lighten skin as well as papaya. Papaya is known to be rich in Vitamin A, E and C. Papaya contains papain, this natural enzyme helps the skin to renew itself and promotes cell turnover.






  1. Natural remedies are the safest agents that lead to a lighter and fairer complexion. They are nontoxic and there is slim to no chance of it harming the body.
  2.  This is also a cheaper and easily accessible therapy to local Filipino citizens and can work just as well as creams.





  1. The overall whitening process will span for a longer period of time. Results will not occur in a fast manner, rather, it will take longer to see results.



            I interviewed my dermatologist at her clinic (the clinic shall remain unspecified in regards to the legality of the situation) and she implied that any skincare whitening system is as long as it is used under medical supervision and administered in a safe dosage. (See interview for full response). A variety of skin whitening products and treatments are available to the people of the Philippines. However, it is strongly advised to consult a dermatologist or a doctor before choosing a preferred skin-whitening product.



  1. Having assistance from an educated and trained professional in this field will help tremendously in choosing the correct skin-whitening product. The dermatologist/doctor will consider the client’s skin type, health, etc. and help in picking which product is best.


  1. This will avoid future discomfort and any scams. A legal doctor will have his/her patient’s interest in mind and most likely provide the skin whitening treatment themselves or have the perfect product in mind after evaluating the patient. This will save a lot of time and effort in selecting one on one’s own.




  1. A doctor’s/dermatologist’s consultation could be expensive for a typical Filipino. A consultation can possibly cost more than the average whitening product found in drugstores.
  2. The product the doctor prescribes could also be more expensive; therefore, money could be a general issue in this possibility.



            In the future, with the knowledge that I have gained from my extensive research on skin whitening I would like to get my information on the dangers of skin whitening out to more Filipinos. I would also like to help Filipinos realize that they are beautiful the way they are, in their natural skin tone.

 I wish that I had the time to do more experimenting with the product I personally tested for only seven days. As opposed to the suggested 16 days (labeled on the packet), my results could have been more drastic and solid. Apparent or not I then can proceed to another argument on the effectiveness based on the period of time I used the product.








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"Skin Layers, Top Skin Layer, Skin Layers." Skin Care, Skin Care Products, Care for Skin, Skincare, Skin Cream, Skin Treatments. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://www.care-for-skin.com/skin-layers.htm>.


"Answers.com - What Type of Tissue Is Skin." WikiAnswers - The Q&A Wiki. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_type_of_tissue_is_skin>.


"Basic Anatomy - Organs & Organ Systems." Courses Pages. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://web.jjay.cuny.edu/~acarpi/NSC/14-anatomy.htm>.


"Skin (Integumentary) System Information." Deaconess Health System. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://www.deaconess.com/myhealth/adam/bguide/reftext/html/skin_sys_fin.html>.


"Skin Whitening." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin_whitening>.


"Human Skin Color." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skin_color>.




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