BY YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE
Last week, the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), through its Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, ranked Nigeria as the first in cases of bleaching in Africa.
The agency raised the alarm on the menace of bleaching creams in Nigeria, saying the problem has become a national emergency that calls for serious attention.
The effects of bleaching creams on the body are enormous; damage vital organs in the body, skin irritation, allergy, skin burn, rashes, wrinkles and prolonged healing of wounds among many other effects. And for someone that desires good health, skin bleaching must be avoided as a matter of importance and wellness.
Skin bleaching, lightening, whitening or brightening is the use of synthetic or natural products to lighten or even out skin colour and is now on the increase in many communities where skin colour has become an important factor in social status
Across the African continent, especially in Nigeria, the market for skin bleaching creams or organic cream products has become huge as a great percentage of women now use organic skin bleaching products. And many of these products are dangerous and pose real health risks.
Skin bleaching reduces the skin’s concentration of melanin pigment which is produced by skin cells called melanocytes and is more in people with darker skin.
Traditional lightening agents contain chemicals such as corticosteroids, hydroquinone, and mercury which lighten the skin tone either by blocking the growth of melanocytes or interfering with melanin production. And skin bleaching products aren’t regulated effectively.
While attempting to block the melanocytes, skin bleaching products damage it. Usually, some of these products get absorbed into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, after which they affect many other areas besides the skin.
Some effects of the products getting into the bloodstream can be very serious and permanent. The effects include brain damage, toxicity, kidney damage, dermatitis, irritation and sensitivity among others.
Though after various and continuous sensitisation on the hazards of skin bleaching, the cosmetic industry has taken a more subtle approach of alternative lightening products which are derived from plants. This is the reason there is an influx of acclaimed organic cosmetic products vendors in Nigeria.
These alternative products which may contain plant-derived agents such as arbutin, which comes from the bearberry plant, and its derivatives kojic acid and nicotinamide, mainly suppress the activity of tyrosinase, a naturally occurring enzyme that helps to make melanin. But there is no assurance that they also do not have varying degrees of side effects.
There are different types of skin bleaching agents with peculiar side effects which find their ways into common bleaching cream, soap or other beauty products:
Steroids or corticosteroids when used for long periods, can have side effects such as acne, infection, inflammation, osteoporosis, Cushing’s syndrome and many more. Corticosteroids based bleaching products can cause steroid acne which typically affects the chest, back, arms, and other regions of the body. It also causes whiteheads, blackheads, little red pimples, huge painful red lumps, and acne scars.
Hydroquinone is the major component of skin bleaching and has been the mainstay of the game for long. It’s available over the counter and in larger quantity on prescription. Long use can lead to blue-black skin discoloration called ochronosis and such other skin conditions. Exogenous ochronosis, a skin condition that results in blue-black pigmentation is alsomlinked to use of hydroquinone-based skin bleaching treatments.
Mercury based bleaching creams can cause mercury poisoning and damage to the nervous system. Side effects include headache, hearing loss, disordered thoughts, kidney damage and death. Skin bleaching creams that contain mercury also cause
Nephrotic syndrome, a kidney illness caused by damage to the blood vessels that filter waste and excess water in kidney. It makes the body expel an excessive amount of protein in urine. It can also cause swollen feet and ankles, frothy urine, loss of appetite and exhaustion.