Skin lightening creams have been a popular cosmetic product in South Africa for many decades and are still widely used for its skin bleaching effects. Also known as skin whitening creams, these applications are available from street vendors and cosmetic counters at chain stores, supermarkets and pharmacies across the country. However a lack of regulation has allowed some skin whitening blends to impregnate toxic compounds in their formulation, leading to a number of skin disorders when used over a long period of time. While the public is aware of the dangers of these skin products, sales of skin lightening creams continue to dominate the cosmetic market.
Skin lightening products are popular in Africa and Asia where a lighter skin complexion is prized among many cultures. The price for beauty has often seen many dangerous products emerge on the market only to be quickly removed through the swift action of local health authorities. However skin lightening products have not fallen prey to regulation and new brands emerge on a daily basis.
Toxic Ingredients in Skin Whitening Creams
Most skin lightening products contain one or more of three common bleaching agents, hydroquinone (hydroquinine), corticosteroids and mercury. These compounds are inhibit the normal secretion of the skin pigment, melanin, which varies in density among different race groups. Long term use of skin lightening agent causes hypopigmentation and a pale, dull appearance of the skin. This leaves the skin prone to sun damage and often hyperpigmentation (dark discolouration of the skin) sets in.
The ingredients in skin lightening products are regulated to some extent in South Africa. However the lack of regulation on the cosmetic industry has allowed manufacturers to use high concentrations of these compounds in skin bleaching creams. These chemicals often cause dry, itchy, cracked and peeling skin but the onset of these symptoms varies among each person.
Pharmaceutical Products for Skin Lightening
Another disturbing trend is the use of scheduled corticosteroid ointments as a skin lightening agent. These pharmaceutical products are being sold through some pharmacies without a prescription and a lack of proper education on the uses and dangers of these creams. Street vendors selling counterfeit versions of these well known, pharmaceutical grade creams is a common sight in most city centres in South Africa and attempts to stop the trade in these product have proven unsuccessful.
The search for a lighter skin complexion will undoubtedly continue for years to come and even with awareness about the dangers of these products, consumers are prepared to risk their health. Attempting to alter the natural skin pigmentation with skin lightening products will eventually lead to disastrous effects that are difficult and costly to reverse.