Africa is often marketed to the world as the black nation, where everyone is proud of their race, skin and heritage. But for some black Africans there is such a thing as being too black.
Skin lightening is popular in many parts of the world, including South Asia and the Middle East.
But medical experts say that in Africa a continent where regulations are often lax or scorned the widening phenomenon is laden with health risks.
Cultural watchdogs, for their part, see it as the toxic legacy of colonialism.
Africa is experiencing a “massive trend of increased use (of skin bleaching), particularly in teenagers and young adults,” said Lester Davids, a physiology professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
Where statistics about Africa’s skin-bleaching industry exist, they are often old or unreliable.
But evidence from the range of products, suppliers and services points to a continent-wide market that may number tens of millions of people and possibly more.
The World Health Organization has reported that Nigerians are the highest users of such products: 77% of Nigerian women use the products on a regular basis.
A recent study by the University of Cape Town also revealed that one woman in three in South Africa bleaches her skin.
Although it has been proven that skin bleaching it still remains a scourge in Africa.
Dangers of Bleaching Creams
According to a dermatologist, Dr Olayinka Adeyemi, people who bleach their skin are prone to skin cancer, hypertension, and diabetics among other diseases.
He said that skin-lightning creams used in bleaching process contained steroid and hydroquinone which could adversely affect human skins.
“The steroid they use cause accumulation of fluid in the body which can cause cushioned syndrome. In this case, they can become hypertensive and end up having renal problem.
“A lot of things ranging from the skin effect to systemic effect, affect people who are using hydroquinone.
“When they bleach, what happens is that some of these products especially the hydroquinone that is inside the product basically suppresses the melanin production.
“It makes sure that the skin thickness is thinned out. The strength of the skin is what actually thins out which is the dermis because the skin has three layers.
“The dermis has the strength of about 95 per cent on its own.
“When hydroquinone is used, the dermis is what thins out, meaning that the structural support of the skin will gradually be lost.”
Adeyemi further explained that the original skin of every human being was for body protection, adding that such skin would lose its immunity to protect the body once bleached.
“We are naturally protected by the original skin; a bleached skin is prone to cancer and other diseases because the chemical used would have removed the immunity from the skin” he sad.
Here is a breakdown of the Top 10 Gruesome Effect of Bleaching Creams on African Women
Studies have shown that one of the contents of most bleaching creams in Nigeria, hydroquinone can cause cancer when used for a long time.
The common types of cancer a user is being exposed to is the leukaemia (a life threatening cancer of the blood), cancer of the liver and kidney. Hydroqinone is also noted to cause cell mutation as well.
2. Vulnerability to skin infection
The use of skin bleaching products especially steroids can cause intense skin irritation, redness of the skin, skin atrophy which causes the top layer of the skin to peel off due to severe dryness. This dryness also leads to breaking of the skin, leaving a user vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infections.
3. Vulnerability to injury
Due to the skin stretching and thinning causes by the use of these products, healing of injuries in users are prolonged and impaired.
Skin thinning also leads to vein exposure and difficulty to perform clinical suture during injuries or surgery. It can also cause permanent stretch marks.
4. Renal damage
This is peculiar to skin whitening products containing mercury. Long term accumulation of mercury can lead to a potential life threatening renal damage. This happens when mercury level in the body reaches levels above that which the body can tolerate.
5. Liver damage
Skin bleaching creams that contains hydroqinone are very harmful to the liver as studies have shown that hydroquinone is toxic to the liver and has the ability to cause some life threatening liver disease over a long-term use.
6. Thyroid disorder
The use of skin bleaching products with mercury can lead to a thyroid disease known as hypothyroidism. This is because mercury interferes with the minerals necessary for the thyroid hormone production.
7. Birth defects
Many expectant mothers who are users of these skin bleaching products are at risk of having children with health defects at birth.
Studies have shown that users of skin bleaching products that contain mercury during pregnancy gave birth to children with poorly developed brains (encephalopathy). This is as a result of mercury’s interference with brain development of the foetus.
8. Triggers diabetes
This occurs when the body produces excessive amount of a hormone known as cortisol. Excessive production of cortisol hormone can be caused by use of skin bleaching creams containing steroids.
The high levels of cortisol hormone in the body can lead to a condition known as Cushing syndrome. Cushing syndrome can in turn lead to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
9. Nerve damage
Another consequence of the long term use of mercury containing bleaching products is its ability to cause peripheral neuropathy.
A condition where the peripheral nervous system, which send information from the brain and spinal cord to the other parts of the body is damaged.
10. Kidney/Reproductive Systems failure
Ingredients contained in bleaching creams may include hydroquinone, steroids, mercury and lead the same element that, at high doses, poisoned Elizabethan courtiers who powdered their faces ivory white.
These chemicals also damage respiratory, kidney and reproductive systems. Which also happens to be the leading cause of death in Africa.