Jamaica warns of skin bleaching risk
Chemical skin lightening has become so popular among young people in Jamaica that health officials launched a campaign to teach them about the dangers. The campaign, Don’t Kill the Skin, will begin next month. “Skin bleaching has become a fast and risky way for young men and women to become beautiful,” Horace Dalley told a group of children at a Kingston library. The focus will be on products that contain hydroquinone, a substance that reduces the melanin growth in the skin, Dalley said.
Don’t kill the skin campaign targets illegal bleaching products Don’t kill the skin campaign targets illegal bleaching products.
Neprosone Gel, Hyprogel, Dermo Gel Plus and Movate Cream are just some of the illegal products used by Jamaicans to bleach their skin which the Ministry of Health will seek to keep off of the street once its “Don’t Kill the Skin” campaign gets underway next month.
Health Minister Horace Dalley said under the islandwide campaign, slated to last for five months, the Standards and Regulations Division will increase its inspection of businesses and individual vendors to confiscate illegal pharmaceutical items. Dr Clive Anderson, consultant dermatologist and venereologist at Nuttall Medical Centre, greets Patricia Eves-McKenzie, a counsellor at the University of Technology, during an Educational Lecture at the Tom Redcam Library in Kingston titled ‘Bleachers Beware’. Valerie Germaine, acting director of the Pharmaceutical and Regulatory Affairs Branch of the Standards and Regulation Division in the Ministry of Health, lookson. (Photos: Garfield Robinson)
“If unaddressed, skin bleaching may soon amount to a health crisis of serious proportion, as many dermatologists are already reporting that some patients seek help far too late to reverse the damage already done to the skin,” Dalley said in message read at an educational lecture entitled ‘Bleachers Beware’, at the Tom Redcam Library in Kingston last Thursday. The lecture is also a component of the campaign.
Dalley added that the lecture series and the upcoming public fora are critical to increase awareness about the dangers of skin bleaching and how to identify harmful pharmaceutical products on the market.
“Dermatologists have pointed out that most bleaching creams contain Hydroquinone, a chemical available only by prescription in Europe and closely regulated in the United States,” he said. “. Prolonged use of creams containing Hydroquinone stops the production of melanin, a natural pigment that protects the skin from the sun, as well as increases the likelihood of cancers.” Some of the products used by Jamaicans to bleach their skin that the health ministry says are illegal.
Dr Clive Anderson, consultant dermatologist and venereologist at Nuttall Medical Centre, explained that bleaching the skin attacks the pigment and is the single most destructive act that can be done to the skin. He disclosed that persons use these creams on the entire body, including the genital areas, which may, over time, cause skin cancer.
“When the skin is damaged it does not perform the protective function it is supposed to, so you can easily get an infection,” said Dr Anderson. “It is very worrying, because a lot of persons know that they are doing severe damage to the skin and persist in it. Some of this damage is reversible; a lot of it is not reversible. We need to realise that when we use these products, we are doing our skin immeasurable harm. There is no advantage to lightening our skin colour and at the same time damaging our skin. Beautiful skin really is healthy skin, whatever the colour.”
Dr Anderson also explained that most bleaching creams contain steroids, which absorb into the bloodstream. He said if used by pregnant and nursing women, the creams can sometimes result in retarded growth of the foetus or infant.
Currently, bleaching creams are easily accessible in Jamaica, especially from street vendors in downtown Kingston and Spanish Town.
Valerie Germaine, acting director of the Pharmaceutical and Regulatory Affairs Branch of the Standards and Regulation Division in the Ministry of Health, said these products are not approved by the Ministry of Health as they are in direct breach of the Food and Drug Act.
Germaine said under the Food and Drug Act, sales and distribution of illegal prescription drugs can attract a fine of $60,000 per offence or imprisonment. She also warned that persons found in possession of these illegal products with no means of explaining how they obtained them, are in breach of the Act and can be fined or imprisoned as well.
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ban on over-the-counter sales of skin-lightening products, saying possible health risks cannot justify their being sold without a prescription.
Germaine said the ministry has been able to confiscate some of these illegal drugs, which are also sold in wholesales.
“We are currently in the process of tracing the origin of these products with the assistance of the Jamaica Constabulary Force,” she said.
But even as the ministry moves to clamp down on the illegal products, Germaine said persons are also using home remedies to bleach their skin.
“There are several combinations, including curry powder, cornmeal, toothpaste and bleach,” she said. “This is very dangerous.”
And despite the fact that the initial effects of using bleaching cream are normally favourable, Germaine warned that there may be internal adverse effects from using these products.
“Your liver could be damaged and you are not aware,” she said. “While all may seem well for some persons, there are many persons that may be suffering from conditions caused by these products.”
The effects of the use of products containing steroids to bleach the skin include:
. Increased risk in skin cancer
. Thinning of the skin
. Irreversible stretch marks
. Easy bruising and tearing of the skin
. Susceptibility to infection
. Delayed wound healing
Hyperpigmentation is where the skin does not return to its original colour after prolonged bleaching but actually becomes darker than what it was in the beginning.
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