Filipino girl with fair skin and blonde hair looking at herself in the mirror

The pursuit of porcelain skin is fueling the massive skin-whitening industry, projected to be worth $24 billion by 2027 as published in the 2021 Cureus journal. This unrealistic beauty ideal of poreless, pinkish, flawless skin has prompted women to resort to dangerous, sometimes back-alley skin-lightening methods.

Research by the World Health Organization found that 40% of the populations of China, Malaysia, South Korea, and the Philippines routinely use whitening products. Many of these are unregulated, with undisclosed ingredients and unknown origins. Still, many people continue to buy them for the sake of, well, fairness.

Of course, skin lightening is still a personal choice. If we were in a positive beauty utopia, women wouldn’t feel pressured to change their natural skin color for any reason. However, this is the real world, and these things still happen. Before trying it out, be mindful of the risks you might be taking. Here are some common myths regarding achieving porcelain skin and the truths behind them.

Myth 1: Skin Lightening Agents Are Safe

Since these products only touch the skin and don’t go into the body, the common belief is they’re relatively safe. Products that are regulated are tested for their contents. They hold only permitted levels of that would otherwise be unsafe in large amounts. Most skin-lightening products do not go through this stringent process.

According to the World Health Organization, most whitening products have high levels of mercury, an ingredient that inhibits melanin production and therefore has a lightening effect. Recently, a company called Zero Mercury Working Group tested 271 products for this hazardous heavy metal and found that more than half had well over the legal limit of 1ppm. In some products, ZMWG detected levels of up to 65,000ppm. Long periods of use can lead to mercury poisoning, which results in kidney diseases and damage to the nervous system.

There are skin-lightening products that do not have mercury but have other hazardous substances, such as hydroquinone. According to the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigative Dermatology, this skin bleaching agent damages the epidermis and reduces skin thickness. It makes skin more permeable to chemicals and other agents. It also decreases the skin’s ability to protect the body from injury or trauma, including the effects of .

Myth 2: Bleaching Improves the Skin

People mistake bleaching's skin-smoothing and tightening effects for good things. But the truth is, women walking around with super taut, glassy, pinkish skin have likely already damaged their skin barrier.

According to the UK National Health Service (NHS), these are just some side effects, apart from scarring, organ damage, and abnormalities in newborns if used during pregnancy. It does not have any health benefits and does not improve skin quality. Instead, it can do more harm than good.

Myth 3: If It Stings, It’s Working

We often hear the phrase “No pain, no gain” and assume it applies to everything, including skin care. There is a misconception that a product has to sting or make your skin peel to work. In their quest for porcelain skin, which includes not just lightening but also smoothness and clarity, many women are unknowingly damaging their skin barrier.

Apart from exposure to chemicals like hydroquinone, mechanical methods such as can also damage. Exfoliating the skin, whether with scrubs or AHAs, must hurt. Scrubbing too vigorously or too often can damage the stratum corneum and capillaries, dehydrating the skin. With a weakened barrier, your skin becomes more prone to issues like dryness, breakouts, irritation, and inflammation.

One gentler alternative is brightening skin, a healthier and more empowering route. Try products that have nourishing ingredients like , , and other components that encourage cell turnover.

For the face, use POND'S Bright Miracle Ultimate Clarity Day Serum and POND'S Bright Miracle Night Serum. This serum duo protects the skin from external aggressors while fading dark spots and brightening the skin. For the body, use Vaseline Gluta-Hya Serum Burst Lotion Flawless, which has GlutaGlow technology, to brighten and even out your skin tone while making it healthier.

Myth 4: Light Skin Is Good Skin

The most dangerous myth about porcelain skin is the one that got us here in the first place: that light skin is good skin. The underlying message here is dark skin is bad skin, and this has been perpetuated in portrayals of beauty in pop culture. It includes before and after images of girls being healed of their acne. They are almost always darker in the before photo, where they also have pimples, and fairer in the After photo, where they appear blemish-free.

The fact is, there is evidence that dark skin is potentially better, at least structurally. A 2016 paper by researchers at UC San Francisco found that it is actually stronger. "Heavily pigmented skin evolved because it forms a stronger barrier against a host of environmental challenges,” the study suggests. It has better barrier function, antimicrobial defense, and stronger cohesion.

Beauty, however, is colorblind. All skin colors are beautiful, and any skin tone can be healthy with the right products and routine. You don’t need porcelain skin and you don’t need to compromise your health to fit into unrealistic standards of beauty. Beware of these myths and always do your research before applying anything to your skin.