Side Effects of Bleaching Creams to the Skin.

7 years ago

Hydroquinone, widely used in
skin lightening creams, is soon to
be banned altogether.BY Prisca
Poisoning, convulsions, asthma,
leukaemia, liver damage,
anaphylactic shock and infertility
are not conditions normally
associated with cosmetics.

However, prolonged use of
certain cosmetic creams, which
contain bleaching agents, has
been linked with all of the above.

In recent years, despite rigorous
campaigning to raise awareness
about the dangers of excessive
exposure to the sun, the serious
health risks which can arise from
using unregulated bleaching
creams has received little or no

Why bleach?
Black skin renews itself quickly,
rapidly producing new skin cells,
this ability for regeneration keep
our skin’s looking younger for

Whenever Black skin is
damaged or traumatised, it
produces an excess of melanin
in the area. This hyper-
pigmentation can result in a
humble spot or cut producing a
dark patch where it is healed.

Skin bleaches are often used in
an attempt to even out skin tone
or remove dark patches caused
by injury. However, in some
sections of the society,
particularly in African
communities, skin bleaches are
used to lighten the skin in the
misguided belief that a lighter
complexion is better.

The production of the most
commonly used bleaching agent,
hydroquinone (chemical formula
C6H6O2), came about by
accident, after Black workers in a
rubber plant found that when a
certain chemical came into
contact with their skin it caused
light patches of skin.

workers sued for damages as a
result of their injuries, but their
‘discovery’ led to the commercial
production of cosmetic creams
containing hydroquinone as a
bleaching agent.

Hydroquinone is a very
powerful chemical that it used as
the key ingredient in the
photographic process of
development, but is also used in
the rubber industry as an
antioxidant, and as an agent in
hair dyes.

Mercury is another
product often used in some
cosmetic products as a bleaching
agent. Severly toxic, it can cause
skin to go grey or blue black,
rather than lighter, and in many
cases has resulted in the user
suffering from mercury

How do they work?
Bleaching creams work by
stripping the skin of its natural

However, in dark
skinned people, the
pigmentation is the skin’s natural
protection from the sun.
Bleaching doesn’t just
superficially lighten the skin, it
alters the skin’s ‘natural’
structure, removing and
inhibiting the production of the
colour creating melanin.
Once the skin has been
‘bleached’ it loses its natural
protective barrier, making it
susceptible to damage by the
sun’s rays.

This is also why many
bleaching products contain
either sunscreen, or come with
instructions advising people to
use sun protection creams along
with the product.

Prolonged use
of these bleaching products can
also prevent the formation of
melanin in the deeper basal
layers of the skin, which will
leave the skin lighter, but also
leave it more vulnerable to

Hydroquinone in
particular, has been found to
damage the connective tissue in
the skin and cartilage, hence its
removal from skincare products.
People who use bleaching
products can end up with rough
and blotchy skin, and then get
caught up in the ‘bleaching trap’
by using more cream to try and
correct the problem, and by
doing so, find themsevles
causing even more damage to
their skin.

Alternatively, they
may find that because of
exposure to the sun, their
‘lightened skin’ gets darker.

Anti-bleaching campaigns
Up until now it has been legal to
sell and promote skin bleaches
which contain a maximum of
two per cent hydroquinone.

Although there is anecdotal
evidence of shops selling under
the counter creams that contain
over this legal limit. Even at
national and international levels,
standards differ. For example,
anyone caught travelling to the
Gambia with cosmetics
containing hydroquinone is
subject to a large fine. Yet,
another African country was
recently prepared to pay
research scientist Sujata Jolly,
two million pounds to develop a
bleaching cream.
Sujata told us,

‘I couldn’t take the
contract. Having seen the terrible
effects skin bleaching has had
on some people, there was no
way I was prepared to take the
contract, no matter how much
money they offered.

’ She said,

‘I’ve been campaigning against
the use of bleaching creams for
years, and have written and
appealed to health ministers in
an attempt to get them to do
something, because I feel so
strongly about the dangers of
using these creams.’

Sujata adds that she’s not alone.
Southwark Council’s Trading
Standards Council recently led a
campaign against the use of
bleaching creams. The
campaigning efforts have finally
paid off, because this time next
year, hydroquinone will no
longer be approved as a
bleaching agent for use in
cosmetic creams in
the UK.

The Department of Trade and
Industry (DTI) has received a
directive (Twenty-fourth
Commission Directive), from the
European Commission, banning
the use of hydroquinone as a
skin lightener.

The draft of the
directive clearly states that
‘Harmful secondary effects have
been shown to arise following
prolonged use of hydroquinone
as a skin-lightening cream.

particular use of hydroquinone
must not therefore be
authorised’. This means that not
even the current allowance of
two per cent of hydroquinone in
cosmetics will be approved by

Member states are already
taking measures to implement
the directive.

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