Friday, January 9, 2009

Skin Whitening Facts Every Filipina Should Know

I am sharing this article to Batch63 ladies.

Whitening products are aplenty in the market. The variety, in one way, is exciting to the consumer out for whiter skin but on the other hand, it is also confusing.
One thing we must be clear about is that our color is composed of two things: the constitutive, which is the color one is born with, and the facultative, which is our adaptation to the environment. The Filipino’s constitutive skin color through millennia of development is darker than caucasian skin as an adaptation to our consistently sunny weather. The UV radiation in our sun penetrates clouds and is reflected by white or light surfaces, like white cement, white tiles, and water. Thus even with an umbrella or hat, when outdoors, our skin may receive reflected UV radiation which may lead to visible sun damage in the future. This is manifested by wrinkling, discloration, widened pores, visible fine red blood vessels called telangiectasias, and even skin cancer.

To protect itself, Filipino skin tans by producing more pigment called melanin which comes from cells in the upper layers of the skin. This is similar to tinting your car to reduce the heat inside and to protect leather seats from crumbling early. This also explains why some people seem to have miraculously lightened from how we remember them in our childhood or just a few months ago. Their dark color was facultative so when their lifestyle changed into one with less sun exposure, they reverted to their lighter constitutive color.

The strategy to lighten one’s skin color starts with avoiding sun exposure. If your work exposes you to sun, such as driving with the sun streaming through the window or doing field work or client visits during the day, one must use sun block. A sun block must be labeled SPF30 and above with PA or UVA protection to be adequate and must be applied to all exposed areas. Many whitening products on the market include sun block ingredients as part of their whitening effect. In other words, the “whitest” you can achieve is about as light as the lightest part of the body hidden from the sun. This is the safest and still the cornerstone of whitening treatments.
Now for those who’ve used sun block consistently and are still not light enough, products that contain melanin inhibiting ingredients may help. Hydroquinone is still the gold standard and works the fastest but may cause immediate side effects like irritation and long-term effects like new, unusual, and difficult-to-treat discoloration called ochronosis. So look for licorice, arbutin, and melawhite. You may also opt for anti-oxidants like coffee berry, green tea, and the like. The lightening with these products is not consistent for all users and usually have their limits but are safe to try one by one. Your best guide to how long to use and wait for effect is, if one bottle didn’t do the job with consistent use, try something else.

For those still unsatisfied with the topical whitening products, glutathione capsule is a safe add-on as long as made by a reputable company. It is primarily an antioxidant but has been demonstrated in lab studies to convert brown pigment to the yellows that give caucasians their color. The glutathione sold in combination with other anti-oxidants like vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid have not been studied extensively to prove their superiority to the plain reduced glutathione. But there’s no harm in trying as long as one stays within the recommended dose on the label and the product has BFAD approval. The whitening effect is not guaranteed, however.

The injectable glutathione is still a question mark. Many practitioners see results, but a good number also caution against high expectations. Because it is used by all cells of the body, the liver has abundant stores of glutathione. Aside from being an antioxidant, it is also used for drug detoxification. Due to the modern lifestyle involving exposure to pollution, smoking, and other unhealthy practices, there is a grain of truth in supplementing with glutathione. There are European studies showing its benefits in improving the well-being of cancer patients and few small local studies subjectively showing skin lightening, but these have yet to be proven in the general population and have yet to be studied long-term. Research is ongoing elucidating its role in certain diseases and whether supplementation may help prevent such diseases. Glutathione is water soluble and may be injected. The main concern is the risk of causing an intravenous infection if the technique is not sterile. Even patients admitted in hospitals for much-needed IV medicines have such a risk, so think about that when you choose to have glutathione injections instead of capsules.

One method to be careful about is peeling. An acid peel when done properly can lighten the skin. However, the skin will always revert to its normal constitutive and facultative color without avoiding the sun or using sun protection. Repeat peels done with short intervals may cause a burn that will take months or even years to correct. Therefore, be sure this is done by a qualified person, specifically a dermatologist. The diamond peel is a shallower type of peel that gives either an immediate fresher or lighter color by removing dull skin cells on the surface. It does not remove freckles and melasma. The results do not last more than a month. However, it is safe, pain free, and has no downtime and thus recommended as a maintenance treatment for most skin types.

Bleaching is an old method using peroxide applied to the whole body. It’s the same chemical used to prepare hair for highlights and for lightening wood for a bleached finish. Of course, the concentrations vary but the principle is the same. It destroys melanin. It has been used successfully but can cause irritation for dry sensitive skin and may leave burn marks when used incorrectly.

The time and money spent achieving a lighter color is not an easy matter. For some, it’s a short roller coaster ride to feel the thrill of being “maputing, makinis.” For a few others, it becomes a lifelong obsession hopping from product to product, salon to salon, or even doctor to doctor in the quest for the grail of fair beauty. Our concept of beauty is shaped by instinct and culture and no person holds a monopoly on the eye for beauty. So if white is your goal, pursue it safely. And if you’d rather keep your natural color, take care of it all the same. My personal observation is that the glow of a happy, healthy person, regardless of color, is still the best complexion.

If you have questions for Dr. Chittina, you can email her at
Dr. Chittina de Ocampo completed both her Medical degree and Dermatology residency at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital. She pursued further training in Dermatologic Surgery at the Burkes-Farber Clinic in Lousianna, USA and Dermatologic Laser Surgery at the Ramathibodi Hospital-Mahidol University in Thailand. She is a Diplomate member of the Philippine Dermatological Society which is the sole accrediting body monitoring the quality of training of its participants.

1 comment:

Pilar Villegas Cuevas said...