Skin whitening, which is the practice of using substances, chemicals, or physical treatments to lighten the skin colour is a common practice among dark-skinned women. This skin whitening treatments work by gradually depleting the content of melanin of the skin. Many agents used for this purpose contain harmful chemicals that can cause significant harmful side effects in the long run, such as kidney failure, cancer and infertility. Some of these harmful chemicals include as follows:
Most skin whiteners contain toxic mercury as an active ingredient such as mercury (II) chloride or ammoniated mercury. Pregnant and nursing mothers, who use these creams are at high risk of mercury toxicity and long-term exposure can cause permanent neurological damage, nephrological disorders, fertility problems, and birth defects. Unfortunately, early exposure to mercury usually has no clinical symptoms. The mercury content in the ovary tissues increases with the frequency of cream application, which could cause systematic absorption leading to tissue accumulation of this substance. This may cause changes in reproductive behaviour and contribute to infertility or ovarian failure. A case study in Japan showed that out of 400 live births, 42 babies were brain-damaged. This was as a result of the fact that majority of these mothers were using mercury-based bleaching creams during childbearing years. Mercury will eventually cause organ damage, which can lead to liver and kidney failure, mercury poisoning and strip the skin of natural pigment, leaving it with a grey/blue colour in the folds of the skin. Its use has been banned in most countries.
Retinol works by thinning the skin over time. It can also enter the bloodstream and cause inflammations. There is a gentler form of retinol, however, it’s advisable to quit using products that contain retinol or use them for a short period. TRETINOIN, which is an all-trans retinoic acid is used mainly to correct skin discolourations. The adverse effects of prolonged use are; increased skin sensitivity to the sun which can have the opposite effect of darkening skin.
Hydroquinone is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, also known as a tyrosinase inhibitor. It works by preventing the production of melanin which makes skin dark. Several case studies have revealed that the liver does not easily get rid this product. This is particularly detrimental to someone undergoing the IUI or IVF process, where, the amount of medication taken is already over-taxing the liver. Experiments done on animals using hydroquinone showed appalling effects such as stillbirth, deformities, and lower than average birth weight. Although the use of hydroquinone has been banned in most countries, they are still marketed and widely used. Other negative side effects include: increased risks of skin cancer, leukaemia, ochronosis, skin irritation, body odour, edema, black and blue skin discoloration, and crusting of the skin.
Kojic acid is a by-product obtained from the fermentation process of malting rice. It is commonly used for inhibiting melanin production and are found in certain cleansers, moisturizers, and other skin-lightening products. Prolonged use of kojic acid may cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis.
Long-Term Effect Of Skin Bleaching On Fertility
A devastating side effect of bleaching in women who use bleaching products is that they are at risk of being infertile. Using lightening products on the skin can cause it to lose its natural protective barrier, making it more vulnerable to pathogens. It can disrupt the functions of the thyroid glands, leading to a case of hypothyroidism, a condition caused by the thyroid gland failing to produce enough hormones. The thyroid is the gland that signals the body to produce hormones which has a significant impact on several activities in the body, including reproductive organs.
The average woman uses about 8 to 12 personal care products a day, which contains a staggering amount of different chemicals. This influx of chemicals into the system further interferes with the endocrine system causing abnormal ovarian function. Also, it can lead to osteoporosis (loss of bone density), psychiatric manifestation and systemic hypertension among other ailments. Bleaching products contain chemical agents that reduce the activities of the natural cell which protects the skin from the adverse effects of sunlight.
Other Effects of Using Bleaching Creams Include the following:
Applying whitening lotions on the skin could cause skin thinning, thereby impairing the skin’s inability to heal when suffering from an injury, lesion or rash.
Dryness, Redness and Burning
The ingredients found in bleaching cream, such as hydroquinone are commonly associated with skin irritation, redness, peeling, a rash, dryness and burning after application.
Aggravated Skin Disease
People who use bleaching creams suffer more severe cases of skin diseases like acne, dermatitis and eczema in comparison with people who do not use bleaching creams. In addition, hydroquinone and mercury-containing skin products disrupt the collagen fibres which constitute the connective tissue of the skin and the outcome is a spotty, wrinkled skin.
The main purpose of melanin pigment on dark skin is to protect the skin against the harmful carcinogenic effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which explains why black people have a lower risk of skin cancer than the whites. Skin bleaching inhibits the production of melanin, exposing the skin to the harmful sun’s ray, thus leading to skin cancer. In addition, the mercury content of many bleaching creams has also been shown to be carcinogenic.
Lotions and creams containing lightening ingredients may be used for short periods of time, under the supervision of a dermatologist. Alternatively, there are natural skin lightening substitutes that can be used to slowly lighten skin.