Raise your hand if you’ve had an auntie tell you to get rid of those adorable freckles on your face! I’ve definitely been there on every visit back to the homeland. It’s kind of crazy to me that the Asian obsession with flawless ivory skin is so pervasive that it applies to even 10-year-olds. I’m currently in Hong Kong, and every other billboard here touts some lightening treatment and a picture of a smiling woman with skin so glow-tastic it’s blinding.
Although I believe the only way to achieve that level of perfection is Photoshop, more and more of the creams used in attempt to achieve this ivory ideal have been coming stateside in recent years. There are lightening creams galore available in the United States: Missha’s White Cure, Étude House’s O2 Whitening Vitamin C series, Shiseido’s White Lucent line. Many of these topical creams contain ingredients that attempt to block melanin production, which is what causes those pesky brown spots.
If you’re intrigued by lightening your freckles (whether or not you prefer a tan), know that not all of these creams are created equal. Some contain hydroquinone, a powerful lightening agent that has disfiguring and irreversible side effects. Over-the-counter products containing this chemical are not regulated and may have much higher concentrations than are safe for use, leaving many with blotchy dark marks where smooth white perfection was desired. Even those touting natural ingredients can have a dark side. The Japanese brand Kanebo has recalled products with 4HPB due to numerous complaints of permanent white patches and skin discoloration. Whitening your skin can be dangerous and cause lasting damage to youthful skin.
So what does this mean for budding divas everywhere? Take care of your skin. Sounds simple, I know, but it’s true. I think the most striking quality of good skin is a certain glow, not the ability to blend into drywall. Some tips: Keep your skin hydrated with a good, non-pore-clogging moisturizer (I love me some Cetaphil); use an exfoliator that gets rid of dulling skin cells but is gentle (like Dermalogica Microfoliant); and treat your acne before it scars with the help of your friendly neighborhood dermatologist.
Most importantly, don’t forget your sunscreen! Pigment production, which causes the darkening of your freckles and other sunspots, is induced by exposure to UV rays. We hear it time and time again, but for a reason. Preempting sun damage is much easier than trying to get rid of it 20 years down the line. Any sunblock with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and SPF 30 or above will do—though I personally find La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 50+ Extreme Fluid to be particularly excellent. BB cream is a great way to achieve an even skin tone and sun protection in one fell swoop; a Korean favorite available in the United States is Missha M Perfect Cover, which I love for its SPF 42.
That said, I truly believe the best remedy is to embrace all your spots and imperfections. I love each and every one of my freckles—they make me who I am.
Aegean Chan is a California girl at heart, a skincare junkie, and the writer behind Aegmora.com. As a dermatologist-in-training based in the New York area, she believes in effortless beauty and believes that achieving healthy, flawless skin should be simple, affordable, and easy.
*Picture of Asian woman via Shutterstock.