Bleaching and communicable diseases
Written by Dr. Abiodun Adeoye
Saturday, 09 February 2013 12:04
If there is anything that has given me concern of late, it is the rate at which young and old, poor and rich people of African descent, especially Nigerians, engage in skin bleaching.
I once attended a church service where there was visible move of the Holy Spirit with powerful sermon and many souls I would say were won into the kingdom of God. But I was quite astonished to see the telltale signs of skin bleaching on the man of God. I want to believe he is not aware of the side effects of bleaching creams and soap. Or how else would we explain even some of our ‘respected fathers’ in high places who grossly engage in skin bleaching?
If they can be pardoned for lack of awareness of its side effect, can the same hold for actors and actresses in Nollywood? These are people that are supposed to be role models for young generation. After much thought, I feel we should all join hands to tackle this menace. I have never seen a white man who wants to change to dark skin. Is it inferiority complex or lack of adequate information? Yes, in certain communities light skin is associated with success, prestige and envy as women commonly turn to skin lightening products to achieve and maintain their desired complexion.
For example in India, the appeal of fair skin is deeply rooted in the nation’s culture and the caste system. Higher caste members traditionally had lighter skin and were less likely to be involved in manual work. This was shown to account for high rate of skin bleaching among the low caste especially the women. This is not the case in Nigeria, yet World Heart Organisation (WHO) ranked Nigeria first among nations endangering their lives with mercury-containing bleaching cream and soap. They have revealed that over 77 per cent of Nigerians use such products on a regular basis. We are followed by Togo with 59 per cent; South Africa, 35 per cent; and Mali, 25 per cent.
I encourage people in this category to please stop this habit. Skin bleaching contributes immensely to the burden of non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes mellitus, kidney diseases and cancers, just to mention a few. Worldwide, non-communicable diseases account for more than 70 per cent of deaths.
While the infectious or communicable diseases are being wiped out in developed and some developing countries, same is not true in Nigeria. This is a double burden on our economy. The fight against polio and HIV is enough headache; don’t add more to it by using bleaching cream and soap. The dangers of bleaching creams and soap are many.
Dangers of bleaching agents
The side effect depends on the ingredients contained in the cream or soap. Unfortunately, most of the manufacturers don’t give accurate information about the percentages of these dangerous ingredients. Hydroquinone is the commonly used active ingredient in many of these bleaching creams. This chemical works by stopping the production of melanin, which is responsible for the darkening of a person’s skin tone. Hydroquinone, when used in right proportion for limited time frame, may not be harmful. According to the US Food and Drug Agency, only two per cent content is allowed but most products have up to four per cent or even more. When used on long term basis, side effects set in. Exogenous ochronosis is a well known effect of prolong use. There is a paradoxical darkening of the skin which follows an initial skin lightening. Wherever I see people in this category, I appreciate absolute ignorance in them. Who will want to get a temporary light skin and later lapse into terrible scaly and thick dark skin with bumps thatare worse than his or her initial black and shine? Instead of allowing ridicule by the community, kindly stop the use of hydroquinone today.
Steroids are another culprit in the bleaching creams and other formulations. Bleaching creams like Dermovate, Movate, Top Gel, and Nuvotone have been found to contain the extremely potent steroids betamethasone and clobetasol propionate. Again, these are extremely cheap and available in all corners over the counter.
A researcher states that “with high-potency topical steroids used for a long time, you can get suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system. And with that suppression, you can get these endocrine problems like Cushing’s disease and diabetes.”
Black men and women have an increased risk of developing diabetes, and topical steroids would heighten their risk dramatically. With Cushing’s disease, there is excessive weight gain; rounded moon shape faces with reduced immunity. All sorts of infections are reported. Hypertension, stroke or depressions can occur. In case of accidents, there is poor wound healing and under stress, they bleed into the skin and brain.
Another ingredient is inorganic mercury which is injurious to the whole body system. According to WHO, once the chemicals get absorbed into the skin and enter the blood stream, the complications are worse. The effects include kidney damage, reduction in the skin resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy. Others are skin rashes, swelling of the skin, irritation, seizures, numbness, pain tremors and memory loss.