Aisha, a 26 year old resident of kawempe on the outskirts of Kampala is not a happy lady. She regrets the day she used some cream from a cosmetics shop in the hope of becoming beautiful but today her skin looks as if she was “roasted” and it is multi-pigmented. This is a story familiar in our society where an attempt of cosmetic surgery goes wrong.
Black is beautiful is a wonderful saying but in this era where beauty is judged by how light ones skin is most people especially women have fallen prey of deadly bleaching creams in the name of beauty.
It is not uncommon to find women on the streets of major cities in Uganda with skin colour patches where ones facial colour may be very different from that of their other body parts.
Poisoning, respiratory conditions like asthma, leukemia (blood cancer), liver toxicity and infertility are not conditions normally associated with cosmetics.
However prolonged use of certain cosmetic creams which contain bleaching agents has been linked with all of the above.
These serious health risks which can arise from using unregulated bleaching creams have received little or no attention from the government and regulatory agencies.
People just import these cosmetics and sell them to unsuspecting customers and on several occasions government regulatory agencies have confessed to presence of substandard cosmetics on the Ugandan market.
Normal Black skin renews itself by rapidly producing new skin cells and this ability for regeneration keeps our skin’s looking younger.
Skin bleaches are often used in an attempt to even out skin tone or remove dark patches caused by injury.
However in many societies predominantly in African communities skin bleaches are used to lighten the skin in the erroneous belief that a lighter complexion is better and beautiful.
How do bleaching creams work?
Bleaching creams work by stripping the skin of its natural pigmentation.
However in dark skinned people the pigmentation is the skin’s natural protection from the sun`s strong radiations. Bleaching doesn’t just superficially lighten the skin it changes the skin’s normal structure removing and inhibiting the production of melanin by cells called melanocytes.
Once the skin has been ‘bleached’ it loses its natural protective barrier making it susceptible to damage by the sun’s radiations and it is the reason why most if not all bleach creams come with instructions advising people to use sun protection creams called sunscreens along with the product.
Persistent use of these bleaching products will leave the skin lighter but also leave it more vulnerable to damage.
People who use bleaching products can end up with rough and discolored skin and then get caught up in the ‘bleaching trap’ where they use even more cream to try and correct the problem and by doing so they find themselves triggering even more damage to their skin.
Alternatively they may find that because of exposure to the sun their ‘lightened skin’ gets darker.
Hydroquinone specifically has been found to damage the connective tissue in the skin and cartilage and is widely used in skin lightening creams.
Mercury is another product often used in some cosmetic products as a bleaching agent. It is severely toxic that it can cause skin to go grey or blue black rather than lighter and in many cases has resulted in the user suffering from mercury poisoning.
Steroids like clobetasol, betamethasone, hydrocortisone and dexamethasone are also being increasingly used in cosmetics and many people often buy these steroid creams from pharmacies and drug shops and mix them with normal petroleum jelly and apply them on their bodies daily.
Steroids can cause thinning of the Skin, Bruises and Burn Marks.
Many people have reported frequent to constant itchy reactions from long term steroid cream use.
Steroid creams can damage the liver and kidneys and when used for long periods they can mess with the immune system making it sluggish and incapable of fighting diseases.
They can also weaken the bones and make them more susceptible to arthritis and bone diseases.
So next time you buy a cosmetic for your skin take some time to study the ingredients as this may save your skin.
Remember black is beautiful.
Source: Katwesigye Kakilembe B.Pharm MUK