SKIN BLEACHING; THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

 

SKIN BLEACHING; THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

By Laila Kasumba; KEPhSA Kenya

Skin bleaching is the process of using bleaching agents (including pills, creams and injections) to lighten the skin pigment, through reduced production of melanin. Popular bleaching products contain mercury, hydroquinone, glutathione, vitamin C or pomegranate extract.

Medically, skin bleaching can be used for good. It is used to treat hyperpigmentation in the form of melasma (brown-grey facial patches caused by sun exposure or hormonal changes in pregnancy), age spots, moles, birthmarks or post-inflammatory pigmentation such as acne scars. It facilitates the achievement of even skin tone which helps people to feel good about themselves. This improves their outlook on (and quality of) life.

Unfortunately, skin bleaching comes with a variety of very serious adverse effects. These include neurological and kidney damage due to the presence of mercury in many of these products; psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety; asthma, liver damage and cancer. In addition, there have been reports of pregnant mothers taking glutathione pills to bleach the skin of their offspring. Although some manage to get away with it, delivery of low-weight babies with stunted growth has been reported.

In a world run by Western ideals of beauty, including that lighter skin is better, it is not uncommon to find individuals of darker populations seeking to lighten their skin. This is particularly so in countries of Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. From the very famous to the very common, skin bleaching has been used in an attempt to appear more conventionally beautiful. This has led to the abuse of these agents with unpleasant effects such as exogenous ochronosis (extreme untreatable darkening of bleached skin); darkening of the extremities (ears, fingers and toes); the bleached panda effect (thinning and darkening of the skin around the eyes); an unnaturally dull white tint; uneven color, acne and weight gain.