Colorism Has People Ignoring Risks to Lighten Skin

Medscape Staff

August 03, 2023

Many people lighten their skin because they believe it will give them more advantages in life. They often ignore the health risks that lightening may pose, according to researchers from the University of Chicago.

What to Know

  • While skin lightening is most often used to treat a medical dermatologic disease or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, it is sometimes used because of "colorism," by which individuals seek to obtain lighter skin for aesthetic reasons.

  • Skin lightening, also called whitening or bleaching, is often done using over-the-counter chemicals that can damage the skin and have long-term repercussions.

  • Skin-lightening products are primarily marketed to women, primarily Black women, with a message that associates beauty and social value with lightened skin.

  • Many of those seeking skin lightening are unaware of potential health risks. They do not know the product ingredients, do not consult a medical provider before use, and have access to potentially unsafe formulations.

  • Potentially harmful product ingredients, such as hydroquinone, can cause skin rashes, swelling, discoloration, and more. The products can also contain toxic ingredients that can cause permanent damage if used for long periods.

This is a summary of the article, "Colorism Attitudes and Use of Skin Lightening Agents in the United States," published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology in October 2023. The full article can be found on

For more news, follow Medscape on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.