Dear 100 Hour Board,
Do skin bleaching or lightening procedures and creams cause cancer? How much research has been done on them? I know people have been trying to bleach and lighten their skin for years and my father really wants me to do it but I worry about the long term effects. Also how do I explain it to white people who wouldn't understand?
-Token in UT
A cursory search on skin lightening procedures turned up lots of results linking it with cancer, such as this article. However, I wouldn't consider any of these articles as particularly credible. The most useful article I found was this one, which pointed to hydroquinone as the active ingredient that has a risk for causing cancer. Again though, I wouldn't count this article as very definitive.
I tried to research some scholarly articles on Google about hydroquinone and cancer, but wasn't able to access the full articles (I could have used EBSCO on the library's website, but didn't in the interest of finding articles that are available for more than just the people who attend BYU). Just in the descriptions on the search page, there does seem to be some sort of link between hydroquinone and cancer.
As the bottom line, I would consult a doctor about the potential medical repercussions of using skin lightening creams before applying them. They will be able to tell you much better than I (and my less than perfect Google searches) about whether a particular cream has a strong potential to cause cancer or not.
Living causes cancer.
As far as explaining it to white people, frankly I don't think you have to if you don't want to. My guess is the effect will be gradual enough that people won't ask. If they do notice a change in skin tone, they might chalk it up to different makeup or less time in the sun.
If the topic does come up, I would probably compare it to how some white people apply self-tanning lotion to appear less pale. It's not completely the same, but I think that would get the basic idea across, and the similarity to a product they or their friends might have used might make them realize that altering your skin tone for aesthetic purposes is common across multiple ethnicities and cultures.