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skin bleaching/ lightening & its dangers

Added: (Mon Sep 26 2005)

Pressbox (Press Release) - DANGERS OF SKIN LIGHTENING

Would you use a cream or soap that may have the following long term side effects …
skin cancer, liver damage, kidney damage or poisoning?

In the modern appearance conscious society in which we live there is a myth that lighter paler complexions portray beauty, riches and success.

This misguided belief has resulted in a huge market in the UK of skin lightening products. Some people use them secretly knowing what the side effects are, others using poorly labelled under the counter products not knowing what dangers they are letting themselves in for. Manufacturers may not be fully versed with the side effects or labelling may be misleading or economical with the truth.

Why do we have colour in our skin?

There are three reasons for the colour of our skin:

o The cells contained within the dermis and epidermis provide a natural yellow, white colour

o Superficial blood vessels provide a blue or red tint determined by oxygen content

o Melanin produced by melanocytes scattered within the basal layer of the skin

It is this third point which determines how dark a persons skin is; more melanin production results in darker skin. Melanin has another key function - it plays a major protective role. It is the skins own natural protection from the harmful ultra violet rays of the sun. Without it the skin is extremely vulnerable and we would have to cover exposed skins with sun screen or risk a greater chance of developing skin cancer.

How skin lightening products work

There are two chemicals found in skin lightening products, Hydroquinone or Mercury.

o Hydroquinone (C6H6O2) is a severely toxic and very powerful chemical used in photo processing, the manufacture of rubber and is an active agent in hair dyes.

o Mercury in the form of Mercury Chloride & Ammoniated Mercury is carcinogenic. They appear on the list of toxic substances that can only be purchased via pharmacies with prescribed labels of toxicity.

Both products perform a similar process. In the short term they will initially cause the skin to lighten by inhibiting the production of melanin. Without melanin formation in the basal layer no brown pigmentation will be visible.

The long term effects, however, are those that must be addressed.

The long term effects of using skin lightening products

Hydroquinone or Mercury applied to the skin will react with ultra violet rays and re-oxidise, leading to more pigmentation and premature ageing. More product is then applied in an attempt to correct the darker blotchy appearance.

These are the beginnings of a vicious cycle. By altering the skins natural structure and inhibiting the production of Melanin, it’s natural protection, the skin is more susceptible to skin cancer.

Prolonged use of Hydroquinone will thicken collegen fibres damaging the connective tissues. The result is rough blotchy skin leaving it with a spotty cavier appearance.

Mercury will slowly accumulate within the skin cells striping the skin of it’s natural pigment leaving behind the tell tale signs of gray/ blue pigmentation in the folds of the skin. In the long term the chemical will damage vital organs and lead to liver and kidney failure and mercury poisoning.

Are these products legal?

Products containing up to 2 percent Hydroquinone were legally available in the UK until 2001 when the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) issued the draft 24th Commission Directive. This bans preparations with Hydroquinone due to the long term effects as it accumulates in the tissues. The UK Cosmetic Product Regulations 1978 prohibits the use of Mercury compounds.

However, the demand for theses products is so high that there are illegal imports via small operators from Asia and Africa of creams, lotions and soaps of up to 6 percent which are sold under the counter in the UK.
Graham McPherson from Trading Standards said ‘we regularly find consignments varying from a couple of hundred items to a couple of thousand items on a monthly basis.’

Second generation of skin lightening products

Sujata Kashap, a skin care specialist, has been investigating a new highly toxic chemical that is already hitting the shops. Sujata said ‘even if hydroquinone and mercury products are successfully banned in the UK there is be a second generation of products containing Kajoic Acid that also work by inhibiting melanin production. Which means that in 5 years time we will be back in the same situation.’

We need to stop this ‘disease’ from spreading

For many years beauty has been associated with being fair. Models are as white as possible and people are commended on the fairness of their skin. We feel that we must bow down to the social pressures or we suffer from the psychological effects which cause us to use products which may permanently disfigure or cause horrific side effects.

Banning products containing Hydroquinone and Mercury will not stop the products from entering the UK and being sold under the counter. The only way we can make a positive impact on preventing this ‘disease’ from spreading is through continuous campaigns raising awareness via the media and the government.

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Submitted by:Mercedes Johansen at Tucan Tango Media
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