Bleaching cream myths unbundled


SOME people mostly Africans tend to believe that skin Lightening creams have the possibility of enhancing one’s beauty.

A skin cream known as Ambi was commonly used in Zambia some years back until when authorities moved in to ban it.
The ban was imposed on the usage of the cream due to the negative consequences that it caused to the users.
On the physical check most consumers were left with permanent dark scars on their skin commonly known as ‘they came to stay”.
But then lately we have seen again all sorts of creams emerging on the market under different brand names but all serving the same purpose of bleaching the skin.
Most consumers of such products do so ignorantly without being aware of the negative consequences that might follow them later on in life healthwise.
Hence the saying that black is beautiful.
Some consumers resort to lightening their skins to accentuate their beauty contrary to the belief that we are wonderful and fearfully made in God’s image.
Regardless of one’s complexion whether light naturally or dark we should be content with God’s creation of us.


We are advised that skin lightening products should only be used on the recommendation of a medical doctor and for such period of time as the doctor may prescribe. They should not be sold in the open market but only in registered pharmacies and chemists.
Some of the effects of the skin lightening creams can be poisoning, convulsions, asthma, leukaemia, liver damage, anaphylactic shock and infertility.
These and many more are not conditions normally associated with cosmetics.
However, prolonged use of certain skin lightening creams, which contain bleaching agents, has been linked with all of the above.
In recent years, despite rigorous campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun, the serious health risks which can arise from using unregulated bleaching creams has received little or no attention.
Why bleach?
Black skin renews itself quickly, rapidly producing new skin cells, this ability for regeneration keep our skin’s looking younger for longer.
Whenever black skin is damaged or traumatised, it produces an excess of melanin.
This hyper-pigmentation can result in a humble spot or cut producing a dark patch where it is healed.
Skin bleaches are often used in an attempt to even out skin tone or remove dark patches caused by injury.
However, in some sections of the society, particularly in African communities, skin bleaches are used to lighten the skin in the misguided belief that a lighter complexion is better than a black skin.
The production of the most commonly used bleaching agent, hydroquinone (chemical formula C6H6O2), came about by accident, after black workers in a rubber plant found that when a certain chemical came into contact with their skin it caused light patches of skin.
The workers sued for damages as a result of their injuries, but their ‘discovery’ led to the commercial production of cosmetic creams containing hydroquinone as a bleaching agent.
Hydroquinone is a very powerful chemical that it used as the key ingredient in the photographic process of development, but it is also used in the rubber industry as an antioxidant, and as an agent in hair dyes.
Mercury is another product often used in some cosmetic products as a bleaching agent.
Severely toxic, 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.
How do they work?
Bleaching creams work by stripping the skin of its natural skin pigmentation. However, in dark skinned people, the pigmentation is the skin’s natural protection from the sun.
Bleaching doesn’t just superficially lighten the skin, it alters the skin’s ‘natural’ structure, removing and inhibiting the production of the colour creating melanin.
Once the skin has been ‘bleached’ it loses its natural protective barrier, making it susceptible to damage by the sun’s rays.
This is also why many bleaching products contain either sunscreen, or come with instructions advising people to use sun protection creams along with the product.
Prolonged use of these bleaching products can also prevent the formation of melanin in the deeper basal layers of the skin, which will leave the skin lighter, but also leave it more vulnerable to damage.
Hydroquinone in particular, has been found to damage the connective tissue in the skin and cartilage, hence its removal from skincare products.
People who use bleaching products can end up with rough and blotchy skin, and then get caught up in the ‘bleaching trap’ by using more cream to try and correct the problem, and by doing so, find themselves causing even more damage to their skin.
Alternatively, they may find that because of exposure to the sun, their ‘lightened skin’ gets darker.
Anti-bleaching campaigns
Up until now it has been legal to sell and promote skin bleaches which contain a maximum of two per cent hydroquinone.
Although there is anecdotal evidence of shops selling under the counter creams that contain over this legal limit.
Even at national and international levels, standards differ.
For example, anyone caught travelling to the Gambia with cosmetics containing hydroquinone is subject to a large fine.
Yet, another African country was recently prepared to pay research scientist Sujata, 2 million British pounds to develop a bleaching cream.
Ms Sujata said: “I couldn’t take the contract. Having seen the terrible effects skin bleaching has had on some people, there was no way I was prepared to take the contract, no matter how much money they offered.
“I’ve been campaigning against the use of bleaching creams for years, and have written and appealed to health ministers in an attempt to get them to do something, because I feel so strongly about the dangers of using these creams”.
Back home the Competition and nsumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has warned consumers to desist from buying skin lightening creams which are likely to cause health problems.
CCPC public relations officer Hanford Chaaba said that as much as it was the responsibility of the traders to inform the consumers on the product, consumers should not buy products likely to affect their health.
Mr Chaaba said in an interview that there were a lot of reports on increased fake skin lightening creams imported into the country.
He said on several occasions the skin lightening creams used by members of the public especially women had been reported to be fake and were not good for their health.
“On the importation of skin lightening creams from neighbouring Congo, the commission has not much to say. We warn and caution the consumers to desist from buying such products that are likely to affect their health. It is the responsibility of the trader to explain the side effects of the product but also it is up to the consumer to decide whether to buy or not,” he said.
He said the commission would always ensure that consumers were informed of the side effects so that they make purchases which are the right products from an informed point of view.
Mr Chaaba said consumers should be aware of fake products that were not supposed to be on the market.
He cautioned the consumers to be wary of the fake products, adding that they should buy genuine products from an informed point of view to avoid being victims of the negative side effects that some of these products are likely to cause.