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Pharmacy and Medications

Skin lightening pills

08/08/2005

Question:

Is there any pill that can make dark skin color lighter?... i read about swiss whiten pills from www.skinbleaching.net do you know this pill?...if so does it work and do you know of any that works?...please let me know please thank you

Answer:

Any material that causes decreased melanin production might have grave systemic impact on the entire organism. Topically, hydroquinones have been used to lighten the skin via toxicity on the melanocyte. The results are not always predictable and the use of monobenzoyl ether of hydroquinone may cause permanent destruction of melanocytes.

Currently in the United States, I am not aware of over-the-counter or prescription drugs that are taken systemically that produce the desired results that you are suggesting. I would urge you to see your board certified dermatologist for further information.

I am also suggesting that your question be further referred to our College of Pharmacy for review.

Several products exist that claim to lighten skin color, including both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some examples include: hydroquinone, tretinoin, retinoic acid, azalaic acid, and arbutin. The active ingredient in the over-the-counter Swiss Whitening product is called arbutin. This product claims that arbutin lightens skin color by slowing the production of certain cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for producing skin color. Little research has been conducted on arbutin’s ability to lighten skin color, and although the research seems convincing, little is known about the amount of arbutin needed to produce this effect. In addition, many cosmetic companies do not use arbutin directly, but use plant extracts that contain arbutin (i.e. bearberry extract). It has not been determined whether these extracts, which are present in small amounts in these products, are useful in lightening skin color.

Topical prescription drugs that have been shown to lighten skin color include: hydroquinone and tretinoin. Hydroquinone is available in various strengths and brand names, and it has been shown to be useful in lightening areas of darkened skin, such as freckles and age spots. Some common side effects that may be experienced with topical hydroquinone are burning, stinging, itching, irritation, or redness. Tretinoin, also available in many concentrations, has been shown to be beneficial in treating skin discoloration. Side effects that may be seen with tretinoin treatment include: burning, stinging, tingling, redness, dryness, peeling, or irritation.

If you are concerned about skin discoloration or darkening, talk to your doctor before starting any treatment plan.

This response was prepared by Lauren Barton, a pharmD candidate at the University of Cincinnati College of pharmacy

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Response by:

Robert James Goetz, PharmD, DABAT
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati