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Skin Whitening Products


Beauty is always being associated with fair, radiant and flawless skin. To achieve the desirable skin complexion, some spend a lot of money to try various skin whitening products in the market.

It cannot be denied that there is high demand for such products among women regardless of their age. However, to avoid undesirable effects, consumers should equip themselves with proper information on the product before deciding to test it out.

Substances in Skin Whitening Product and the Effects

Skin whitening products usually contain more than one combination of whitening substances such as vitamin C, kojic acid, tranexamic acid, alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), nicotinamide (vitamin B3), arbutin, plant extracts and others. These substances react to melanin production, a substance in human body that affects the skin colour.

Skin whitening products do not necessarily have the same effect on every individual. Different skin structure or levels of skin problem is affected by numerous factors including diet intake, stress, physical activity, skin exposure to the sun and others.

Control of Skin Whitening Product in Malaysia

Skin whitening products which are marketed in Malaysia are available as cream, lotion or in other forms that are intended for external use only and not to be injected or consumed orally.

Injection products must undergo a comprehensive safety, quality and efficacy assessment before it can be registered with the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) and can only be administered by a healthcare professional. MOH also regulates any skin whitening products which is meant to be consumed orally, and must undergo certain regulatory procedures depending on the composition or substance being used.

Based on the record of post market surveillance activities on cosmetic products, skin whitening products are commonly found to be adulterated with substances controlled under scheduled poison such as hydroquinone, tretinoin, azelaic acid and mercury. Referring to Poison Act 1952, hydroquinone (except for use in artificial nail systems), tretinoin and azelaic acid are only permitted in pharmaceutical product registered with MOH.

Those products can only be used under the supervision of healthcare professionals as unintended use may cause serious adverse effects to the consumer. Other than those substances, mercury can also be found in whitening products which can cause harm.

Consumers may refer to the list of cosmetic products being tested and found to contain prohibited substance published on the official website of National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), http://npra.moh.gov.my. Ironically, skin whitening products containing prohibited substance are being promoted to give the whitening result in a short period of time.

Tips for Consumers

Consumers are advised to be more prudent on the expected end result and always prioritise safety when applying cosmetic product because any cosmetic product that can give the desirable result instantly may not necessarily proved safe to be used.

Here are some tips that can be followed:

  1. Carefully read the information on the product label and follow the recommendation given.
  2. Always protect skin from factors that is harmful to the skin such as sun exposure and polluted environment. Practice healthy living and eat a balanced diet.
  3. Do not easily be convinced with advertisements which promise drastic changes. A safe cosmetic product may take a longer time to deliver its desired effects.
  4. Kindly refer to healthcare professionals /beauticians to identify the real skin problem and suitable products for your skin.
  5. Stop using cosmetic product if experience any adverse effect and refer to doctor if needed.

Consumer may also verify the notification status of cosmetic product from NPRA official website. Any complaints or experiences of serious adverse effect due to the usage of cosmetic products must be reported to NPRA.

Last Reviewed : 08 September 2016
Writer : Nik Shamsiah bt. Nik Salleh
Translator : Balqis bt. Mohamad Zin
Accreditor : Zuraida bt. Abdullah