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Are skin lightening products harmful?

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In the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologists warn that direct-to-consumer (DTC) cosmetic products that lighten or bleach skin may contain toxic levels of ingredients and cause adverse affects which are sometimes irreversible.  Because DTC products do not have to demonstrate any degree of product safety and packaging labels are often misleading, it makes it challenging for the consumer to understand the potential risks of using the cosmetic product.

These DTC cosmetic products are different to prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs which are reviewed and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

Skin lightening cosmetics can contain toxic levels of mercury and damage the nervous system and kidneys.  These products are most popular among African, Hispanic and Asian communities.