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Expert warns on adverse effects of skin bleaching, lightening

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Despite life-threatening effects of skin bleaching and use of skin-lightening creams, which includes skin irritation, inflammation, skin and kidney cancers the number of Nigerians who indulge in this act is on the rise. Skin-lightening creams/gels, also known as bleaching creams, fading creams, whiteners and skin brighteners, function by reducing the pigment called melanin in the skin.

While some people resort to use of lighteners to treat numerous skin problems, including discoloration, acne scars, freckles, and age-related spots, others, especially dark-skinned do so to obtain a more even, fairer skin tone.

A visit to some cosmetic shops reveals that very many dealers still make plenty of money from selling skin-lightening products. Many of their clients are still demanding products that lighten the skin. Worried by the spike in skin bleaching and the unregulated sale of bleaching agents in the country, the National Association of Dermatologists (NAD), called for immediate enforcement and regulation of the use and illegal sale of skin bleaching/lightening agents.

The dermatologists at their 2018 Scientific Conference and Annual General Meeting at Ile Ife, Osun State said the call had become necessary in order to check incessant cases of skin and kidney cancers and other related disorders in the country.Dermatologist and genitourinary specialist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Otrofanowei Erere, said because of the composition of skin-lightening products, they have dire consequences on the entire body. Therefore, awareness creation on these dangers must be sustained.

Hear her: “Most skin-lightening products contain mercury, hydroquinone, corticosteroids, a variety of alpha and beta hydroxyacids (AHAs, BHAs), kojic acid, arbutin, azelaic acid, ascorbic acid, glutathione and such others. These are either used as the main ingredient of a product, or in combination.”

She, however, explained that the challenge actually lies in the method, which these chemical compounds are used, and not the chemicals.On how different people react to bleaching once they pick up the habit, Erere, who is also a lecturer at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL), said people react in different ways, ranging from itchy skin to blisters, which could be noticed right from the first day.

“Reaction can vary from an irritant contact dermatitis whereby the skin is itchy, red and may form blisters, to even more serious disorders that are beyond the skin. It can be experienced from the very first time one applies them to weeks, months and years after.“Unfortunately, some people may not notice any outward change or reaction on their skin and will continue using these products to their eventual detriment. The expected fairer skin may not be quickly seen, but the chemicals are being transported through the skin into blood vessels and the systemic circulation,” she added.

Still shedding light on the effects of skin-lightening, she said: “Cutaneous (skin) effects of bleaching include mottled and uneven skin discoloration, acneiform eruptions, recurrent infections, skin atrophy (thinned skin), poor wound healing, telangiectasia, body odour (bromhidrosis), exogenous ochronosis (discolouration of the sides of the cheek), skin cancers and hyperhidrosis (increased facial hair).”

Not many know that there exists a nexus between skin bleaching, terminal ailments and even damaged organs. The medic explains: “Some systemic effects of skin bleaching include hypertension, hyper glycaemia (diabetes mellitus), cushing’s syndrome, adrenal insufficiency, cataracts, immunosuppression, renal failure and skin failure.”

Tracing what pushes otherwise educated people into skin bleaching, even with the dangers involved, she said, according to the Nigerian Association of Dermatologists (NAD), the reasons range from low self-esteem to peer pressure and the desire to remove body spots, among others.

In her words: “NAD observed that the reasons are multifactorial and may include, but not limited to the initial plan to remove spots or blemishes, which then becomes habitual; the trend of skin bleaching products in the market; the belief that fair skin is perfect in comparison to dark skin; psychological self-hatred or low self-esteem; peer pressure; facilitation of career advancement in some industries; attempts at attracting intimate partners; media promotion campaigns that mostly use light-skinned models and other such reasons.

“In view of all these, the narrative of skin lightening needs to be changed. Whilst it is important to repeat the adverse effects of the prolonged general use of skin lightening agents, there should be more public enlightenment campaigns on the beauty and safety of loving and living with the skin you are born in. The awareness should be geared towards appreciating black skin, showcasing role models across all disciplines with black skin, billboards of healthy, shiny and glowing black skin; rather than ‘say no to skin bleaching,” which we tend to do more. If having black skin becomes more fashionable, like keeping natural hair has become in the last decade, we may be on our way towards curbing the trend,” she added.

While stressing that Nigerians need to know that there is no need to alter their skin colours to proof anything because dark skin is as beautiful, she called for the implementation of regulations involved in importing such products in order to protect the African race. She advised users of such products to desist and seek medical attention urgently in order to halt further damages to their skins.

On what beauty-conscious persons should do in order to stay safe, she said seeking a consultant dematologist’s opinion is a very good step. “Also, when purchasing beauty products, it is imperative to check their contents at the point of purchase. However, some of the contents may not be listed to guide the public when buying, so as a general rule, if the product is stated as whitening, brightening, toning, clarifying, it may be wise to desist from their use. Your skincare product should basically be gently cleansing (bathing soap), moisturising and for sun protecting you,” she said.


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Skin Bleaching
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