A light face with dark knuckles and feet is a common symptom of skin bleaching. Bleaching is not an unusual practice within Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities and most readers of this article may know someone who has bleached their skin.
According to a BBC report (2013), a specific reason for skin bleaching is unknown but most people use skin lighting creams because they want “white skin”. The article quoted women reporting to feeling confident and beautiful after bleaching their skin. A woman believed that being lighter or having “white skin” will make her more successful and increase her chances of getting married. Another user of bleaching creams reported that, black people are perceived as dangerous and he did not want to be viewed as a dangerous man. The reason for these beliefs are unknown but researchers have linked it to Africa’s colonial history where white skin was seen as superior and the “epitome of beauty”.
Although there is evidence (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder”) to challenge believes of white skin defining beauty, success, opportunities and self-worth, it is evident that these beliefs are deeply rooted into our communities and cannot be eliminated overnight. Subsequently, the implications and consequences faced as a result of bleaching requires immediate awareness.
Dangers associated to some of these creams include blood cancers, leukaemia, cancers of the kidneys, liver and skin conditions such as ochronosis. Most of these creams contain harmful substances and steroids not intended to be absorbed or come into contact with the human skin. Chemicals like mercury, high doses of hydroquinone, topical corticosteroids causes broken veins, interference with hormones, premature aging, skin infections and permanent skin damage. Although individuals are aware that little can be done to reverse that damage caused by skin lighting creams, most people are in denial about the side effects of such products -Dr Noora Moti-Joosub.
World Health organisation (2011) that, 77% of Nigerian women use the products on a regular basis, followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and Mali at 25%. It was reported that “In India, 61% of the dermatological market consists of skin lightening products” and “In 2004, nearly 40% of women surveyed in China (Province of Taiwan and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region), Malaysia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea reported using skin lighteners”.
Skin lighting products often come in different forms, gels, soaps and creams. The purpose of most skin lighting products is assist with fading age spots, freckles and other skin discolouration. Skin lighting creams are not intended for full body use due to high doses of toxic chemicals it contains.
Some skin lighting creams have been banned due to the prolific impact it has on the human health. Unfortunately, the supply of illegal bleaching creams is an ongoing safety issues within the BAME community. The law can prosecute and or charge traders of illegal skin bleaching creams. Traders can be sent to prison and have their assets seized by the trading standards of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Past sentences include suspended prison sentences and fines ranging from £1,450 to £72,500.
Trading/ selling bleaching creams is a conscious decision (choice) to promote ill health in our communities which is a course for concern. It has been acknowledged that “choice” is an important part of human rights. Skin bleaching is a choice which may have been influenced by past ideologies nevertheless, trading or choosing to put toxic chemicals into the body despite its health warnings is a problem that needs to be addressed both personally and globally.
References and Further Reading