The main aim of skin whitening is to obtain a more even skin tone and to lighten any sun damaged and age spots or . This is a highly achievable aim with the right amount of supervision from an expert (dermatologist). However, in most cases, skin whitening products are applied without any expert advice nor supervision leading mostly to unwanted results and this is mostly done to achieve a cosmetic effect, the much desired lighter skin tone.
There are so many side effects of skin bleaching in practice and in literature but today we will start with these seven. Have a great time reading and digesting this bit for now!
1) Skin Cancer
Skin whitening creams contain mainly 3 chemicals; Hydroquinone, Mercury. But, most creams sold in the market are a dangerous cocktail of compounds like steroids and tretinoin, alongside hydroquinone. These compounds have carcinogenic properties and long term use can lead to lethal health concerns like skin cancer and liver damage.
Using hydroquinone in doses higher than 2% or for periods longer than 3 months will lead to darkening of the skin…. a bluish black discoloration of the skin (exogenous ochronosis) which is permanent and very resistant to further treatment. Over-usage of skin whitening products can also cause hyperpigmentation at the level of the fingers, toes, ears and other extremities, causing them to look darker and mismatched. Especially prone to this are areas with so much keratin or high friction areas.
Another negative effect can develop known as the “Bleach Panda Effect”. What happens here is that the skin around the eyes become thinned and have increased pigmentation, This is cute on a Panda but definitely not on a human. The so called black eye but here induced by bleaching.
3) Thinning of the Skin
Repeated use of skin whitening creams may cause thinning of the skin (epidermal atrophy). This condition is characterised by severe bruising, exposed blood vessels (capillaries/veins can easily be seen and are close to the skin), stretch marks and other serious skin problems.
4) Skin Healing Properties
Normal and undamaged skin has the ability to heal itself and regenerate skin cells through 4 processes: Haemostasis (blood clotting), Inflammation, Proliferation (growth of skin tissue) and Maturation (remodeling). When the skin is subjected to heavy and/or continuous doses of the chemicals in skin whitening creams, it looses its ability to heal. Hence, injuries, lesions or rashes are much difficult to treat.
5) Skin Irritations
The way hydroquinone works is it inhibits the enzyme reaction that causes the production of dark pigments (melanin). Unfortunately, hydroquinone causes mild irritation which generally causes skin irritations like redness, peeling of the skin, rash, dryness and burning.
6) Worsening of Skin Infections
According to several studies, notably one conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the Institut d’Hygiène Sociale, Dakar – Senegal and published in the 2003 British Journal of Dermatology; people who suffer from skin diseases like acne, dermatitis and eczema are adversely affected by skin bleaching/whitening creams. The study also found that hydroquinone caused worsening or the introduction of skin diseases.
Furthermore, most skin whitening creams contain steroids which when used on acne (pimples) can block the pores and lead to the development of new acne. Thus these bleaching creams especially the ones containing steroid can further lead to bleach acne.
7) Mercury Poisoning
One of the more serious risks of unsupervised and continuous use of skin whitening creams is Mercury Poison. According to the WHO, mercury poisoning can cause the following:
- Kidney and liver damage
- Skin rashes
- Skin discoloration and scarring
- Reduction in skin’s ability to fight infections like bacterial and fungal infections
- Anxiety, depression or psychosis, pain and tingling sensation due to damage of peripheral nerves
- Nephrotic syndrome (a kidney condition marked by leakage of protein in urine)
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