Skin whitening has always been a hotly debated topic. Some people find it insulting that 'fair skin' is seen to be more desired than say dark skin. While for others they don't understand why some Chinese, South Asian and Black people would want a 'white skin tone' when they themselves are spending their money in tanning salons.
The skin whitening market in India alone is estimated to be worth around $432 million (2013) and it is growing faster than ever. The phenomenon is also slowly creeping into the European market as well but in a less obvious way. Whether skin whitening is morally right or wrong I will leave that up to you to decide. Instead I will look at some of the available ways to achieve the results and also look at how it may in some cases harm the skin.
Skin Whitening Soaps – These are effective if you use them in the correct way. Over time it will certainly lighten the skin and make it smoother. However, you have to remember that many skin whitening soaps act like an exfoliant. Which means they really shouldn't be used everyday otherwise it will thin the skin in the long run. Also you have to ensure you use sunscreen on a daily basis as the revealed skin is much more prone to sun damage. Read about the importance of sunscreen.
Skin Whitening Moisturisers – If you decide to use this method, the initial problem you will face is that there are so many to choose from, you simply are confused. What I would say is that you avoid products that contain chemicals such as hydroquinone, mercury and lead. Trust me you don't want to put these onto your skin. Instead, look for products that have natural skin lightening ingredients such as mulberry, kojic and papaya. If the right product is used you will certainly see really good results.
Homemade Skin Whitening – There are so many good recipes to choose from. Some of the most common ones are lemon, milk and honey mixed in equal measures and applied to the face for about 20 minutes. Other recipes include, oatmeal, yogurt and tomato. There are too many to list but they offer good results. If you decide to choose this method then know that it is safe and cheaper than buying expensive creams. However you will need to be patient. As for the harmful effects, i can't really think of any except where you use lemon juice. Do not immediately go out in the sun and be sure to use plenty of sunscreen.
Skin whitening is most certainly an individual choice. I am in no position to tell you not to do it. If it makes you happy then it is entirely your choice. For me personally it is more important to ensure the complexion is radiant and bright rather than simply to have fair skin. By having an even tone it promotes youthfulness and beauty. However, if skin lightening appeals to you and you want to do it in a safe and effective manner then I would suggest you buy from reputable companies and that you understand some of the risks that may be involved. Also, nature always offers really good alternatives. Sometimes it may require you to be patient but the risks are not there.