What Are the Different Types of Skin Bleaching Cream?

Angela Marcum

In most places there are a couple of different skin bleaching creams available for purchase, but the most common variety is made with glycolic acid. The acid attacks pigment in the skin, and can give the temporary appearance of fairer or lighter complexion. Whether or not a glycolic acid-based product is successful depends on things like the strength of the acid compound and the darkness of the skin to begin with, and in most cases results can take weeks if not months of regular application. People can often get faster results with harsher products, but these also tend to carry a range of different risks and might not be available in all places. Creams containing the chemical hydraquinone, for instance, are often very powerful but are also restricted in many countries because of how harmful they can be if used incorrectly. Elemental mercury can also be an effective bleaching agent, but can similarly lead to burns and deep tissue damage and is prohibited as a cosmetic treatment in some places. Anyone considering a skin bleaching cream is usually wise to read up on the precautions and risks, and should follow all printed directions precisely to avoid injury or permanent skin damage.

Skin bleaching creams are often used to even out a person's skin tone or remove age spots.
Skin bleaching creams are often used to even out a person's skin tone or remove age spots.

Skin Bleaching Basics

People use skin bleaching products and creams for a number of different reasons. Sometimes the desired outcome is very targeted, for instance lightening a freckle, mole, or age spot. In other instances the intended results are more widespread, as is often the case with people who want paler complexions overall or who want to appear to have a fairer skin tone than they have naturally.

Skin irritation and burning may be side effects of glycolic acid creams.
Skin irritation and burning may be side effects of glycolic acid creams.

Different skin lightening creams have been around for centuries, with some mixtures proving more effective than others. Most of the creams available commercially are chemically based with primary ingredients designed to break down the skin’s pigmentation cells and physically lighten the surface. It’s usually the case that results are temporary, and long-term color changes require regular and devoted application. It’s important for anyone to remember that putting acid on the skin, especially on sensitive areas like the face, can be harsh and is often harmful, particularly over time.

Skin whitening creams that contain mercury are no longer legal in some areas.
Skin whitening creams that contain mercury are no longer legal in some areas.

Glycolic Acid Creams

Glycolic acid may be commonly used in cosmetic procedures and found as a main ingredient in most of the popular over-the-counter skin lightening products. Regular treatments of these products could lighten the skin, but a lot normally depends on the strength of the product as well as more individual skin characteristics. It can take anywhere from three to ten or more applications to achieve results, which typically will vary from person to person. Stronger treatments are usually reserved for use by a physician or other qualified medical staff in an office setting. Side effects of glycolic acid-based skin lightening creams can consist of redness, irritation, burning, and peeling of the skin.

Skin bleaching creams that contain mercury can cause scarring and discoloration.
Skin bleaching creams that contain mercury can cause scarring and discoloration.

Hydraquinone-Based Systems

Hydroquinone treatments may not be legal in all areas of the world. When available, hydroquinone lightening systems are typically given only by prescription, and even then usually only in small amounts. Some over-the-counter forms of this skin bleaching cream may be purchased where it is legal to do so; however, they typically will contain only minimal amounts of the ingredient since it is so harsh and the risk of skin burns are so real. Hydroquinone skin treatments can work in as little as four weeks and should not be used for prolonged periods of time. Possible side effects include crusting of the skin, swelling, burning, or itching; permanent skin discoloration or skin disorders can also occur.

Mercury Treatments

Creams containing mercury have been banned in many different countries and regions worldwide because of the generalized dangers associated with elemental mercury. Still, the compound can sometimes be found in numerous lightening products on the market, both legally and illegally. Mercury can lighten the skin but may have numerous potential side effects including mercury poisoning, scarring of the skin, and discoloration.

Side Effects and Risks

The possibility of side effects is present with any type of skin lightening product. While some people will not experience any problems or discomfort, this will ultimately vary on an individual basis. Final results with skin bleaching cream can also differ significantly from person to person based on the person and his or her experience with the cream. It’s almost always a good idea to consult with a dermatologist or other medical professional before committing to the regular application of a chemical-based skin cream, and following all of the manufacturer’s directions can also be a good way to minimize risks.

Hydroquinone cream.
Hydroquinone cream.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@fBoyle-- Not all skin lightening creams are full of chemicals. There are creams with natural and safe ingredients like vitamin C cream and papaya cream. Although the results with these natural products are not as drastic as bleaching creams with chemicals, these are safer options.

Creams containing exfoliants like gycolic acid, as the article mentioned, or salicylic acid will also brighten skin tone since they help remove dead skin cells.


I'm not a doctor but I don't think that the long term use of bleaching creams with hydroquinone is safe. I've heard that these creams can make skin thin or discolor skin permanently. They may cause hyper-pigmentation as well.


Some skin bleaching creams are actually made for fine hair. So these are used to bleach hair on the body or face instead of whitening skin like some other bleaching creams.

My best friend used this type of product before her wedding to make her body hair unnoticeable. I helped her apply it because it has to be applied very quickly and then washed off because it makes skin burn and itch after a few minutes. So we applied it very fast making sure that it covered the hair and then she took a shower and washed everything off with a sponge.

It made a significant difference though and the hairs on her arms and stomach were not even noticeable.

Post your comments
Forgot password?