We Asked a Doctor for the Lowdown on Skin Bleaching So You Don’t Have to

Fact or fiction: Skin bleaching is as easy as taking a trip to the store.

Skin bleaching, the practice of using topical and oral agents to lighten your skin’s pigmentation, has become a controversial subject as of late. Azealia Banks most recently received backlash after revealing she’s been bleaching her skin. Some believed Banks was essentially saying having lighter skin would help her career, others took issue with her comparisons of skin bleaching to getting a nose job. Either way you cut it, Banks is allowed to do as she will with her own body. But her use of skin lightening methods got us thinking: What does skin bleaching entail really?

Dr. Carlos A. Charles is a board-certified dermatologist who founded Derma di Colore, a dermatology practice that specializes in treating darker skin tones, in 2012. We spoke to Dr. Charles to help us determine what’s fact and fiction when it comes to bleaching your skin. He tells us that there are “gentle” over-the-counter creams you can buy to help fade blemishes, but if you’re looking to treat “more resistant and larger surfaces” on your skin (yes, that includes your whole body), you should see a doctor. Remember: It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

What’s fact and fiction when it comes to bleaching your skin? Find out in our Q&A-style interview with Dr. Charles below.

  • FICTION: It’s as easy as taking a trip to the store.

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    Dr. Charles: “Many believe that they can fade away dark spots and skin pigmentation easily. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Lightening skin color can be a difficult undertaking. Also, many feel that they can do these procedures at home with over the counter products. However, procedures and topical agents to lighten skin color should be used under the guidance of a medical professional as there are many inherent risks to these treatments.”

  • FACT: It’s not cheap.

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    “Cost varies upon the type of procedure that is performed. Topical creams can cost upwards of 100 dollars. In-office chemical peels can cost anywhere from 150 to 400 dollars, and several peels oftentimes need to be performed.”

  • FICTION: It’s never safe.

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    “It can be safe when performed in a controlled manner by a medical professional. Limited dark areas on the skin can be treated in ways that will not damage the skin. However, full body skin bleaching is not advised for most people.”

  • FACT: You should take the approach that works best with your skin.

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    “There are several methods to properly bleach the skin. The best approach depends upon the type, size and shape of the skin pigmentation. Commonly topical prescription-strength medications are combined with various in-office procedures such as chemical peels. Additionally, certain laser-based procedures can sometimes be performed.”

  • FICTION: There aren’t any side effects.

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    “Certain topical skin bleaching creams can lead to unwanted side effects when not applied properly. These include thinning of the skin leading to permanent stretch marks. Additionally, severe acne-type rashes, irritant and/or allergic reactions to the medications can occur.”

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