By way of introduction, it deserves mention that the skin is the largest organ in the human body, serving as a natural mirror that reflects the overall health status of an individual. Undoubtedly, a healthy-looking skin is not something anyone wants to trade off or sacrifice. However, in a failed bid to enhance their skin beauty, many have ended up falling victim of several diseases that only leave their skin worse and even jeopardize their lives. Arguably, the beauty and cosmetic industry has enjoyed unprecedented attention and patronage in recent times to the extent that a shocking statistic revealed that about 75% of Nigerian women make use of one skin-lightening product or the other. Unfortunately, some of these products contain harmful chemicals like hydroquinone which, although notable for its rapid bleaching abilities has also been implicated in organ damage as well as skin cancer. In the end, it does more harm than good when abused or used against the doctor’s prescription. No wonder the use of hydroquinone in skin lighteners has been banned across Europe and several other countries including Australia and Japan.
Highlighted below are some hazards you are probably exposing yourself to when you bleach your skin.
1. Premature ageing
Hydroquinone- and mercury-containing skin products work by blocking melanin production by the basal layer of the epidermis of the skin. Since melanin is the pigment responsible for the dark colour of the skin, such skin becomes lighter. With prolonged use, however, these chemicals react with ultraviolet rays, become oxidized and then cause unsightly pigmentations on the skin. Furthermore, hydroquinone may disrupt the collagen fibres which constitute the connective tissue of the skin and the outcome is a spotty, wrinkled skin.
2. Skin Cancer
It is a well-known fact that the melanin pigment of the black skin protects against the harmful carcinogenic effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun and this explains why black people have a lower risk of skin cancer than the whites. However, individuals that bleach their black skin colour have lost the privilege of this protection and consequently expose themselves to skin cancer. In addition, the mercury content of many bleaching creams has also been shown to be carcinogenic.
3. Proneness to skin injuries
It is a well-known fact that many of the available skin lighteners contain steroids, the prolonged use of which hampers skin health and leads to skin atrophy, a condition in which skin thickness is appreciably reduced. Such light-skinned individuals are more prone to skin injuries such as bruises, abrasions and cuts. Striae (abnormal streaks or lines) are often noticed on bleached skin and believe me, they are not good to look at!
4. Damage to internal organs
Continued use of those skin-lightening creams may not be in the best interest of your internal organs especially your kidneys, liver and brain. For instance, heavy metals including mercury are important causes of kidney injury and failure. In large doses, the liver and brain may not be spared as well.
5. Mercury poisoning
There is such a condition as mercury intoxication or poisoning. It can result from mercury inhalation, ingestion, injection or absorption through the skin. The bad news is that if your bleaching cream contains high levels of mercury, you are setting yourself up for mercury poisoning. More unfortunate is the fact that mercury poisoning has some fatal effects on the brain that are quite difficult to reverse such as tremors, ataxia (loss of balance or coordination), dysarthria (inability to articulate words) and numbness or tingling sensation on the extremities.
In conclusion, it is in recognition of these unpleasant problems that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that everyone be happy with the colour of their skin. I am proud to be black. A word is enough for the wise!