“Skin bleaching kills”
The desire to look good has overwhelmed our common sense. You don’t agree? Look around you. From undereating to being slaves to fashion trends, we have decided being attractive is all that matters. Anything that makes us look good goes, regardless of its detrimental effect on our health.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about how you look, I’m saying you should care about your health more. You hear stories of women removing their ribs just to get a certain figure, of men downing steroids to look more masculine. Shouldn’t our health matter more?
The prevalent health problem that plagues us when it comes to looking good stems from skincare, specifically, skin bleaching.
What Is Skin Bleaching?
Skin bleaching or lightening represents billions of dollars worth of the cosmetic market. It is the practice of lightening skin colour, which could be in certain areas or generally. This is usually done with the help of creams, lotions, soaps etc. There is also the use of laser treatment to lighten skin.
Skin lightening creams work by reducing the production of melanin. Melanin is a pigment, produced by melanocytes, that gives colour to skin, hair and eyes in humans and animals. Little melanin, you’ll be light-skinned, too much, you’ll be dark-skinned. The amount of melanin we produce is based on our genes, if your parents are dark-skinned, you’ll probably be dark-skinned too.
Melanin is also the body’s response to harmful UV rays, like the kind from sunlight. These rays can cause cancer of the skin, called melanoma.
On average, darker-skinned people are at less risk of cancer.
Are fairer people really more attractive?
There is this deep-seated notion in black people that fairer people are more attractive. This usually starts at home, with families acting better to their light-skinned members. Other things like social media, pressure from friends and loved ones, subconscious preference in our environment, discrimination and bullying etc can influence this notion. And one can’t help but think that colonialism and racism plays a part in this belief.
(for more information on the epidemic that is skin lightening, check out this article: Skin Lightening is not Skin Care)
You are beautiful, your colour is too.
Why you shouldn’t bleach your skin
In 2006, a notice was issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that over-the-counter (OTC) skin bleaching products are not recognized as safe and effective.
Skin bleaching has been associated with several adverse health effects.
Some skin bleaching creams contain mercury which has been linked to mercury toxicity. Mercury when absorbed can affect the kidney and brain adversely.
Signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
- high blood pressure
- sensitivity to light
- kidney failure
- neurologic symptoms, such as irritability, tremors, and memory loss
- kidney failure
Some skin products cause inflammation of the skin, called dermatitis.
- skin redness, skin ulcers
- dry, scaly skin
- swelling, itching, burning and tenderness
Exogenous ochronosis (EO) is a skin disorder skin disorder that presents itself as blue-black pigmentation. It occurs as a side effect of long-term use of skin lightening creams that contain hydroquinone.
Skin lightening creams can cause steroid acne when they contain corticosteroids.
Steroid acne mostly affects the chest, but can also present on the back, arms, and other parts of the body following long-term use of corticosteroids.
Symptoms can include:
- whiteheads and blackheads
- small red bumps
- large, painful red lumps
- acne scars
Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney disorder that causes your body to excrete too much protein in your urine. It is caused by damage to the blood vessels in your kidneys responsible for filtering waste and excess water.
Skin bleaching creams containing mercury have been associated with nephrotic syndrome.
Symptoms can include:
- swelling (oedema) around the eyes
- swollen feet and ankles
- foamy urine
- loss of appetite
Chemicals like hydroquinone and mercury are carcinogens, that is, they cause cancer. Using skin bleaching products can put you at risk.
Lightened skin is also more highly susceptible to skin infections like fungal infections and viral warts. Health complications may also arise for pregnant users and their children.
Does skin bleaching creams have benefits?
From a medical point of view, using these products to lighten your skin just for the sake of aesthetics is not worth the risk. Though, dermatologists can use them to provide safe treatments for some skin conditions.
Skin bleaching treatments can reduce dark spots on the skin, like melasma, caused by sun damage, ageing, and hormonal changes. It can also be used to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
It can help in reducing the appearance of acne scars. Though it won’t be effective against active inflammation, it might help reduce the redness or darkness that persists after acne has healed.
Skin lightening may also even out skin tone by decreasing areas of hyperpigmentation, such as those gained from sun harm. It can also help minimise the appearance of freckles.
Skin bleachers can cause a vicious cycle, in which when a person stops using it, the skin reacts and develops rashes, causing the person to start again.
It is important to take note of all these before you start using any skin lightening product. If it’s just for how you look, then it might not be worth it. If it’s therapeutic, that is, for treatment, then you should consult your dermatologist first.
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An experienced biomedical researcher cum laboratory scientist. A teacher of the sciences. Self acclaimed health and lifestyle police, changing the world one article at a time.