Skin lightening products available over the counter or by prescription are used to lighten dark skin by reducing the amount of melanin produced in the skin where the product is applied. Skin lightening products, also known as bleaching creams, whiteners, fade creams and skin brighteners, do have risks involved with use, according to WebMD.com.
Skin lightening products are used to lighten naturally dark skin, as well as treat other common discolorations such as freckles and dark spots. There are risk factors in continued use of some products, according to DermBNet NZ. Those risks vary depending on the concentration, ingredients and use of product. The biggest risk is mercury poisoning. Although using mercury in skin lighteners is banned in the United States, some products made outside the U.S. may include mercury. Prolonged use can lead to mercury poisoning and other serious health issues including pregnant women transferring mercury to an unborn child. The predominant U.S. Food and Drug Administration-regulated ingredient used in skin lighteners made in the U.S. is hydroquinone. Non-prescription products should not contain more that 2 percent of hydroquinone. Even with the safer products, side effects may include premature aging, irritation, allergic reactions and the onset of ochronosis, an untreatable skin discoloration. Other dermatology treatments may be considered to lighten skin, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion or laser treatments.