Always read the label listed to find out whether or not the ingredients contained in skin whitening.

White skin is often associated with the concept of beautiful and happy. This myth makes many women competing to whiten the skin. Though not a few whitening products on the market contain ingredients that have the potential to be harmful to health.

Adverse Effects of Skin Whitening

In 2013, the Food and Drug Supervisory Agency (BPOM) secured more than 74,000 units of cosmetic products that contained dangerous ingredients and did not have a marketing authorization. In the same year, 17 cosmetic brands were announced containing dangerous ingredients. Most of them are skin whitening products.

Melanin – Determinants of Skin Color

As it determines the color of hair and eyes, the color of human skin is also determined by the color and content of a pigment named melanin. Melanin levels in the skin are generally determined by a combination of hereditary factors and levels of sun exposure.

Skin that is often exposed to sunlight stimulates melanin production which then makes the skin darker. In other words, melanin is a natural sunscreen or a form of adaptation of human skin to the natural conditions in which it is located.

The bad effects of ultraviolet are more preventable on dark skin because they contain a lot of melanin. This is because melanin serves to absorb and eliminate the negative effects of ultraviolet from the surface of the skin. In the same level of sun exposure, white people are ten times more at risk of getting diseases because of the dangers of ultraviolet rays such as skin cancer than dark skinned people.

Pay close attention to the ingredients and how the bleaching product works

The ingredients used in whitening products function to brighten skin tone by fighting the natural melanin production process so that the levels of melanin in the skin are reduced. With reduced levels of melanin, skin color becomes whiter.

Each ingredient contains benefits and side effects. Some ingredients are categorized as dangerous because they cause adverse effects, even in limited quantities. While other ingredients can be tolerated so that the benefits are more dominant than the side effects.

Keep in mind, that in general, skin whitening makes melanin production reduced, causing skin to be more sensitive to sunlight. In the long run, its use can cause premature aging and skin cancer. With reduced levels of melanin, the impact of ultraviolet light on the skin increases. Exposure to excessive ultraviolet light accelerates wrinkles and can potentially trigger skin cancer.

Risky Material


Mercury or mercury is a metal that is normally in the form of a gray liquid that is odorless and insoluble in water and alcohol, but dissolves in nitric acid, hot sulfuric acid, and lipids.

Mercury is an active ingredient that has an impact on exfoliating the skin epidermis. In the long run, their use can cause:

  • Damage to kidney function, nervous system, and psychological problems arise.
  • Abnormalities of brain function in fetuses from mothers who use bleach made from mercury.


Hydroquinone is a chemical used in the photo printing washing process and is useful as a stabilizer in oils, paints, varnishes, and vehicle fuels.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States POM states that bleach products sold freely on the market may only contain a maximum of 2% hydroquinone. Meanwhile, if this product is prescribed a dermatologist can only contain a maximum of 4% hydroquinone. The use of hydroquinone above 4% can cause rashes on the skin due to burning.

In Indonesia, bleach products containing hydroquinone were allowed to circulate at the same level. However, since 2008, through the Regulation of the Head of POM of the Republic of Indonesia Number: HK. concerning Cosmetic Material, the content of hydroquinone in whitening products should not be used at all.

In full, the regulation states that hydroquinone should only be used by professionals as a color oxidizing agent in hair dyes and nail polish.

The use of hydroquinone in high or continuous levels can trigger:

  • Hyperpigmentation, which darkens the skin color due to increased levels of melanin. Melasma or black patches is an example of hyperpigmentation.
  • Vitiligo: disappearance of skin pigment as a whole due to the death of melanocyte cells, producing melanin. The main characteristic of vitiligo is the appearance of white patches on the skin.
  • Exogenous okronosis: skin turns blackish blue. Generally caused by a buildup of homogentisic acid (alkaptonuria disease).


Steroids, sometimes also called corticosteroids, are ingredients that are usually used to reduce inflammation, for example on skin that is red and itchy. If consumed in high levels or on an ongoing basis, this powerful steroid can cause cataracts and weakening of the bones.

Especially for the skin, the side effect of using steroids is thinning of the skin layer. If the skin becomes too thin, the person will be more easily scratched or injured. Steroids applied to the skin can be absorbed by the body and then enter the blood vessels. Other side effects are:

  • Telangiectasis: capillary blood vessels appear on the surface of the skin due to thin skin layers.
  • Zits
  • Slow wound healing


Rhododenol is a natural chemical from white birch bark which reduces melanin production.

This material was actually authorized by the Japanese health agency and even used in several products of the leading cosmetics companies in Japan. But this material has also been revoked by the Japanese government because it has been proven to have a negative impact on health.

However, products containing rhododenol which were sold in Indonesia were finally withdrawn from the market since July 2013. This withdrawal was motivated by reports of a number of consumers who complained of depigmentation or white patches on the skin.

A combination of hydroquinone, corticosteroids, and retinoic acid

Corticosteroids and retinoic acid are commonly used in the treatment of some skin problems such as hyperpigmentation (dark patches on the skin). But if mixed with hydroquinone, the product is considered unsafe.

In the long run and excessive levels, its use can cause thinning of the skin and make the skin turn pink.

Corticosteroids and retinoic acid are commonly used in the treatment of some skin problems such as hyperpigmentation (dark patches on the skin). But if mixed with hydroquinone, the product is considered unsafe.

In the long run and excessive levels, its use can cause thinning of the skin and make the skin turn pink.

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and its derivatives

Vitamin C whitens the skin by functioning as a powerful antioxidant which suppresses the oxidation reaction in melanin synthesis. Vitamin C skin whitening is usually given in the form of injections.

Although effective for brightening the skin, but if given in high levels can pose risks:

  • Make the kidney work harder to trigger kidney failure
  • Causes kidney stones
  • Headache
  • Passed out

Vitamin C injections should also be avoided by pregnant women because they can interfere with fetal growth.

Safe Material

In general, many natural ingredients are safe and can help the skin whitening process. But even safe materials have the potential to have a bad impact if overused. For safety and health, users need to pay attention to the levels of ingredients and how to use them safely.

Following are the ingredients contained in the whitening products which are categorized as safe:

Kojic acid – This material is produced from several types of mushrooms and is used in the process of making Japanese sake. Kojic acid is safe. But irritations such as reddish skin can occur in people with sensitive skin and if used indiscriminately.

Arbutin – Bearberry plant extract which inhibits the action of tyrosinase, an enzyme that plays an important role in the formation of melanin. The long-term use of arbutin can cause several side effects including depigmentation or patches on the skin.

Lycoris extract – Plant extract of legumes which inhibits the tyrosinase enzyme. Likoris is relatively safe. In the long term the loris is absorbed by the body and can risk triggering high blood pressure.

Chamomile Extract – Chamomile plant extracts absorb melanin pigment. This material should be shunned by people who are allergic to plants such as chamomile flowers such as daisies.

Mulberry extract – Same as lycoris extract, this material inhibits tyrosinase activity and functions as an antidote to free radicals. Not enough data about the side effects of mulberry use in pregnant and breastfeeding women makes this group should limit their use.

Green tea extract – Inhibits the release of melanosoma from melanocytes to keratinocytes and reduces tyrosinase activity. So far, research has not proven the existence of side effects for the use of green tea extract by applying it to the skin.

Alpha-MSH antagonist – Useful to inhibit the action of the tyrosinase enzyme and melanin production process. The side effects are not yet fully known.

Reducing the Risk of Harmful Ingredients in Skin Whitening

The following are some things that can be done to avoid the harmful effects of bleach with dangerous ingredients:

  • Make sure the cosmetics you want to buy are listed in the list of cosmetics that are registered with BPOM.
  • Registered cosmetic products must include the marketing authorization number. While the product that is notified is not required to include the notification number, but must include the name and address of the manufacturer on the label. A list of certified products can be seen here.
  • lways read the ingredients label on each skin whitening product package, including the method and dosage of use, composition, and expiration date.
  • Although the effects of using certain new products will be felt in the long run, it never hurts for you to do a cosmetic sensitivity test in the following way:
  • Apply the product to the plaster.
  • Stick the tape for 24 hours on the inside of the forearm.
  • Keep the plaster from water.
  • Remove the plaster and check whether the product reacts on the surface of your skin.

If the skin does not react badly, chances are that the product is safe for you. However, stop using if the skin becomes red, itchy, blistering, or painful.

Consult the use of skin whitening products to the doctor before use, especially if you are pregnant.

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