It seems that the quest for a flawless complexion is an arduous one, with many of us turning to topical solutions to achieve our skin-perfecting goals. Although there may be an abundance of skincare products catered for Caucasian skin concerns, those with deeper skin tones are left with an inadequate selection to choose from. And while it may appear that skin tone is the only distinguishing factor, there are in fact a number of structural differences between the skin phototypes that aren’t widely known; such as epidermis thickness, oil production levels, and hyperactive melanocytes, just to name a few. And it’s in these specific functions that melanin-rich skin requires a tailored set of ingredients to truly flourish and maintain a healthy, even complexion.
Hyperpigmentation is one skin concern that can definitely dash our flawless skin dreams, while proving incredibly detrimental to our confidence (especially when there’s an insubstantial amount of resources and education on how to effectively treat it). We’re looking to close this gap for good however, and by sharing our carefully curated line of products, we hope to see your melanin-rich skin feeling bright, hydrated, perfected, and your confidence infinitely boosted because of it.
But are we too late?
For many women across the globe, the discrepancy in representation within the media, entertainment, beauty, and fashion industries have led to an even bigger issue regarding our views of societal beauty; colourism. This conversation comes with a long history of injustices aimed towards those with melanin-rich skin, and even though we may be improving as a society, we still have a long way to go. Skin bleaching is but one by-product that comes from this perception, and it’s not only severely impacting our mental health, but our physical safety too. We’re here to find out the differences between non-invasive skin brightening and the radical world of skin bleaching, and how they interact on a cultural and societal level, as well as an aesthetic one.
So, what exactly is skin bleaching?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at what skin bleaching actually entails. Also known as skin whitening or lightening, this treatment aims solely to lighten the skin tone by a number of shades while creating an even complexion. Topical chemical substances are administered in the forms of lotions, soaps, and creams, that are predominantly composed of hazardous ingredients such as the potentially carcinogenic hydroquinone, highly toxic mercury, and corticosteroids that when overused, can present life-altering consequences. This method is by far the most dangerous and unfortunately, the most favoured due to the wide-spread availability and affordability compared to other variants on the market. Other treatments include ingestible glutathione capsules, carbon laser facials, and professionally administered (but non-regulated) IV drip therapies. The aim is to continually inhibit melanin production, and is often maintained not just over a course of weeks or months, but over decades. And it’s in this repeated use that the health problems arise. Comparatively, skin brightening consists of a gentle cocktail of exfoliation, acne relief, and detoxifying ingredients that ensures a seamless complexion without altering the shade of your skin.
Perhaps the most considerable variance between bleaching and brightening however, isn’t in their topical usages, but what they each represent within our communities. While skin brightening is a tool used to celebrate the best version of ourselves and embrace our natural skin tones, the practice of skin bleaching reveals an unspoken sense of inferiority surrounding women of colour compared to those with lighter skin. According to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that the skin bleaching industry will reach the £22 billion mark by 2024, with Africa and Asia contributing roughly 65% to all global profits. A staggering 77% of Nigerian women add to that number, closely followed by 61% of Jordanians, while those in China make up 40% of the sales in Eastern Asia. But surely this can’t just be about beauty, right? Well, not entirely.
How do the global Eurocentric beauty standards affect our daily lives?
Through subliminal messaging from marketing campaigns and entertainment channels, the appearance of ‘whiteness’ offers higher levels of success, lucrative job opportunities, as well as marriage desirability. Such a notion was garnered from generations of colonialism, which has now extended to colourism within melanin-rich communities that view lighter-skinned women as ‘cleaner’ and with a higher social status compared to those with deeper complexions. But we believe it's time to take back the power and redirect our energy to uplift melanin-rich women no matter their skin colour; shifting away from the ‘whiteness equates power’ narrative into one of self-acceptance, self-care, and diversity.
One of the best ways to feel flawless in your skin and overcome the current beauty ideals, is to understand how to tackle a common skincare complaint; hyperpigmentation. This characteristic is unique to those with deeper skin phototypes, who have an innate sensitivity to minimal inflammation and traumas, such as hormonal imbalances, irritations, and contact with harsh products. Events such as these lead to inflammation in the skin which trigger a natural response of the pigment producing cells known as melanocytes to significantly increase production of melanin. Since the melanocytes in melanin rich skin are uniquely efficient at producing melanin, this can lead to overproduction and result in hyperpigmentation. You’ll often find this overproduction manifest in dark spots on the forehead, underneath the cheekbones, and around the mouth. But while we may begrudge this process in favour of an even complexion, it’s important to note the protective role that melanin plays in the integrity of our skin health; for example in shielding against harmful, collagen-damaging ultraviolet rays. And it’s in this heightened protection where we see melanin-rich skin naturally safeguarded against the signs of premature ageing and to some extent against sun-induced skin cancers.
Did you know it takes more than one ingredient to alleviate hyperpigmentation from melanin-rich skin?
To maintain the integrity of this complex system, we recommend tackling your hyperpigmentation by:
- First using a combination of exfoliating AHA’s and BHA’s to gently ‘unglue’ the bonds holding dull, dead skin cells together, thus revealing a brighter and smoother complexion.
- Then by harnessing powerful melanin inhibiting agents known as tyrosinase enzyme inhibitors (along with a combination of plant extracts and antioxidants) you can then regulate the excess melanin production and promote healthy cell renewal, resulting in an all-over glow and uniform pigmentation.
- A simple solution using a few well-chosen topical skincare products can make all the difference to your confidence, but what about bleaching treatments? While there may be some similarities in terms of inhibiting tyrosinase enzymes, the key difference between bleaching and brightening may be found in the mechanism of action from these ingredients; bleaching agents have may contain ingredients that give rise to side effects such as irritant or allergic reactions, and even paradoxical darkening of the skin.
The health risks associated with this method of melanin-eradication can range from minor aesthetic disfigurements such as steroid-fueled acne, irregular depigmentation, and scarring, all the way to more systemic problems. At this point you may be wondering how these products are still legally sold in retailers across the world. Well, they aren’t.
And although these chemicals are banned within the beauty industry, they’re still routinely sold in large quantities with scarcely any legal supervision.
The illegal-market trade is rife with heavily toxic products that not only contain high levels of dangerous chemicals, but also fail to address them in their packaging and marketing campaigns. Consumers are then left unaware of the health implications, and when symptoms arise, are often too ashamed to seek medical help.
Out of the three EU and FDA banned ingredients found in topical skin bleaching treatments, mercury is by far the deadliest; with repeated exposure leading to potentially long-term neurological problems, and even kidney, liver, or nerve damage. Add in hydroquinone and corticosteroids to the mix, and you can expect a myriad of side effects including ochronosis; a skin disfiguring disease that presents itself in clusters of raised blue-black pigmented dots, contact dermatitis, burns and blisters, as well as glaucoma, and diabetes. The lack of testing, monitoring, and awareness within the skin bleaching industry has been recognised as a ‘health crisis’ amongst medical experts, leaving melanin-rich consumers at serious risk of adverse effects. To prevent any further damage being done to our melanin communities, we can start by altering our perception towards the current beauty standards presented to us, and combat colourism head-on by opting for healthier skincare practices.
Where can we find gentle and effective topical brightening solutions?
Here at 4.5.6 Skin, we offer a hyperpigmentation-tackling range that provides a three-step regimen catered to phototypes IV, V, and VI. No matter your skin type, we’ll help to alleviate your pigmentation woes gently, and effectively, using only the best innovative biodynamic ingredients that we can find. For those with normal/combination skin, we recommend trying ‘The 3-Step Pigmentation Set,’ which consists of one build up-busting ‘Green Bae’ cleansing gel; a detoxifying, de-zitifying, and rebalancing formulation that reduces excess sebum production with antibacterial salicylic acid for a harmonious skin microbiome. One cell-boosting ‘To Be Clear’ exfoliating mask that wields the power of micro-nutritive plant extracts to reactivate cell turnover, calm inflammations, and ensure a smoother and brighter epidermis. And finally, the dark spot fading ‘Sevenly Delight’ brightening serum that packs a serious punch using plant-derived antioxidant glutathione, along with free-radical fighting vitamin C, and an ultra-healing complex of vitamin B3 and B6. Altogether, this trio works to brighten, smooth, and diminish the appearance of blemishes, hyperpigmentation, and pore size, leaving you with beautifully healthy skin.
Feeling a little dehydrated? Not to worry; simply switch to ‘The 3-Step Hydro Pigmentation Set’ to swap out your gentle ‘Green Bae’ cleansing gel for the soothing ‘Come Clean’ cleansing oil; an instant thirst-quencher for drier skin types that looks to nourish parched cells with anti-inflammatory antioxidants, fatty acids, and hydrating squalane. This unique tissue-oxygenating formulation boasts a concentration of over ten natural oils alongside moisturising vitamin E, to best care for your freshly cleansed skin. And you can customise your skincare regimen even further by selecting from the quick questionnaire before adding to your shopping cart.
How can we end the hazardous bleaching cycle?
We believe it’s imperative to cater for every melanin-rich skin type, skin tone, and skin requirement, because everyone deserves a chance to fulfil their quest for a flawless complexion. And this is why we hope to close the knowledge gap between phototypes IV, V, and VI; to embrace the individual diversity that’s found between them, so we can reconnect with our own natural beauty, in a safe environment free from prejudice and toxic chemicals. Whether you’re an advocate for skin bleaching, or proudly enhancing your natural melanin, we hope that you're well-equipped with the information needed to make informed decisions regarding your psychological well-being, as well as your physical health.
And as we grow as a society, we can only continue the conversations surrounding colourism to the point where one day, we won’t need to any more. Let’s reinvent the current beauty ideologies, shall we?