What is Skin Lightening

You’ve probably heard of this term before, in beauty magazines or on Instagram, but what exactly does it mean?

Skin lightening, or skin bleaching, is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure which aims to lighten darker areas of skin or achieve a paler skin colour. Usually, skin lightening is used to improve the appearance of birthmarks, scars, or melasma (which are just darker patches of skin).

How does it work?

Skin lightening is a process which can be traced back as far as the 1500s. Skin can be lightened using soap, cream, pills, and even injectables. Usually, it takes more than one session to achieve results. It’s a practice that is fraught with tension and controversy, but still business is booming. By 2027, it is predicted that the industry will be worth well over $24 billion dollars.

It works by reducing the concentration or production of melanin. Melanin is the skin’s natural pigment – the more melanin you have, the darker your skin will be.

How can I lighten my skin?

Lightening your skin is a major decision and should be considered carefully. The procedure can be expensive, time-consuming, and most importantly, results aren’t guaranteed. Before deciding on anything, discuss your reasons for wanting skin lightening with your GP. They’ll be able to talk you through the risks and side effects, and possibly give you another option.

Skin lightening can result in some serious side effects, and these are especially common in people with darker skin tones. Bearing that in mind, here are the most common ways skin lightening is done:


You can get either prescription or non-prescription creams. These creams contain hydroquinone and/or corticosteroids. For non-prescription creams, it’s best to avoid anything that contains these ingredients, as they are specialist medicine and should only be used under the advice of a qualified professional. These ingredients are banned in the UK and can only be provided in a prescription.

Usually, you’ll be advised to use the smallest amount possible, once or twice a day – and on the dark area of skin only. You’ll be advised to avoid the face area, especially the eyes, nose, and mouth. You should apply with a cotton bud and wash your hands thoroughly before and after use.

After application, avoid the area touching anything for at least a few hours. You should also use sun cream generously on your skin while undergoing the treatment.


For more serious patches of dark skin, laser treatment can be used. It works by either removing the dark area of skin or damaging the cells which are producing the melanin. This is the more expensive option of the two and isn’t available on the NHS, so you’ll have to pay for the entire cost yourself.

Before undergoing any treatment, you’ll have a test session to see how your skin reacts. During a proper session a small handheld laser device will be held against your skin. You’ll feel a stinging sensation and many people have described it like a rubber band being snapped against their skin. Each session lasts 30 minutes to an hour.

Recovery is longer than with creams, as the skin has actually been damaged during this process. After having laser skin lightening, you’ll experience redness, swelling, bruising, crusting, and blistering. These can last up to 2 weeks which is why laser skin lightening should be considered carefully.

Remember that there is nothing wrong with your skin, or the colour of it – skin lightening should never be used to make people look paler or whiter than their natural skin tone. We’re beautiful in all our colours!