Among people of colour, there is a widespread desire for a toned, lighter skin – especially ladies. Higher levels of melanin (a dark pigment produced by the skin cells) makes it easy for us to develop uneven tone and exaggerated darkening, especially after inflammation. 
Skin whitening/toning is not wrong in itself. The question is: what is your goal? An evenly toned or a permanently bleached skin? It’s not uncommon for dermatologists to prescribe skin whitening/toning creams to patients who are battling with skin diseases which have resulted in unsightly darkening. 
The commonest active agent in these creams is Hydroquinone. There’s usually no more than 2% concentration and it’s used for a short duration. There are concerns about increased risk of skin cancer with prolonged use. However, people have abused this substance in the name of maintaining the whiteness and even tone. 
Most bleaching creams contain steroids, such as hydrocortisone and clobetasol. These are powerful substances that, (when abused) not only affect the skin, but can be absorbed into the bloodstream, disrupting the normal homeostasis of the body. 
Overly bleached skin can look unnaturally white with a grayish tint, resembling the skin of a cadaver! When Hydroquinone is used in concentrations higher than 2%, it begins to give paradoxical results. There have been reports of the development of exogenous ochronosis, the darkening of the skin which is permanent and very resistant to any treatment. Though there is a possibility that this skin reaction can develop with lower doses, the risks are increased when the dose is higher.
Overuse of skin whiteners causes pigmentation to build up in your extremities (fingers, toes, ears etc), causing them to look darker and mismatched. This can culminate in what is called “the bleach panda effect”, where the skin on the face becomes thinned around the eyes and have increased pigmentation. Cute on a panda, not so nice on humans! Thinning of the skin results in increased susceptibility to injuries, infections and delayed wound healing. 
Can you whiten (or tone) your skin without the need for toxic chemicals? Yes. Opt for mild exfoliation with natural things like honey, lemon, yogurt, potato peel, etc. Packaged herbal remedies and nontoxic exfoliating creams are also widely available. These are much milder and gentler on your skin. Eat fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Reduce your exposure to sunlight and maintain an excellent personal hygiene. More importantly, love yourself. Embrace your dark skin and be grateful to your Lord. 

As Muslims, we must understand that we are accountable to Allah for all our actions, be they right or wrong. Hence, we must strive to always please Allah with our deeds by adhering strictly to His commands and refraining from all forbidden acts. In Q. 95:4, Allah declared that He has created man in the best form.
This declaration, however, does not mean that man cannot seek improvement in his shape or look. For instance, a deformed person can seek medical care to correct his deformity. Likewise, a person with tumor in his brain or cataract in his eyes can approach the appropriate professional to remove it. None of these conflicts with the verse above.
What the Shari’ah frowns at is any action that leads to altering or changing (completely) the creation of Allah for no just cause (such as medical reasons). For example, the Prophet (saw) forbade tattooing of the body and plucking of the eyebrows, but permitted plaiting/shaving of the hair as well as other forms of beautification.
On the issue of skin bleaching, the Ulamaa have declared it to be totally haraam if the purpose is for beautification and it is permanent. This, according to them is based on the express provision of Q. 4:119 wherein Shaytaan said: “And most certainly, I will lead them astray and excite them in vain desires, and bid them so that they can slit the ears of the cattle, and most certainly, I will bid them so that they shall ALTER ALLAH’S CREATION…”
The implication of the verse above is that such frivolous alteration in Allah’s creation as seen in bleaching of the skin for no reason other than to appear brighter than one’s natural look and deception of others is clearly in following of the footsteps of Shaytaan, which Allah has warned us against (Qur’an 2:168, 208, 6:142 & 24:21)
Shaykh Saalih Al-Uthaymeen was asked about the ruling of using whitening creams and he replied: “Yes, it is haraam if it changed the colour of the skin permanently. In that case, it is like tattooing, and the Prophet (upon him be peace) cursed the woman who does tattoo and the one on whom it is done. But if it is done to remove a defect, such as if there is a dark, disfiguring mole on the skin and the individual uses something to remove it, then, there is nothing wrong with that.
WAllaahu Ta’aala A’alam.

*Special thanks to Sirnucy Lafiagi for his contributions*


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