THE SKIN BLEACHING EPIDEMIC IN NIGERIA: ISSUES, TREATMENT AND SELF CARE
Yes, it’s official. Every woman wants to achieve flawless, beautiful, and even skin. We see it all over social media networks; girls with pale white, seemingly spotless bodies, hanging out at bright, sunny beaches in bikinis getting in ‘some sun’. It is hard to believe how far it is from the truth in terms of the reality of skin lightening without side effects.
Skin lightening/toning/bleaching is not new to the history of modern man. For several centuries, women of all races and cultures have striven to achieve lighter skin. From crushed lead powder used as makeup, to mercury to hydroquinone, steroids and several other chemicals, people have experimented with all types of ingredients with the aim of achieving flawless, paled skin. These concoctions however, have not produced visible results without giving negative results. Some of the negative results include dark knuckles, sunburn, dark patches, thinning of skin as evidenced by unsightly stretch marks and green veins. Moreover, the harsh hot sun of the tropics lends to additional sun damage.
Steroids (e.g. clobetasol, hydrocortisone, betamethasone) are currently popular ingredient found in several skin lightening creams. Some skin lightening products don’t list steroids in their ingredient list as steroids are sometimes used only in ‘trace’ amounts which do not need to be listed especially if used in addition with other active ingredients. Steroids are generally used to treat issues such as dermatitis, eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. When used for a prolonged period of time or in high doses, it reduces blood flow to the skin thereby giving the skin a pale look. However, it also thins the skin which can also lead to unsightly stretch marks and skin burns among other things. Hydroquinone has been the mainstay for skin lightening for decades. When used as a supervised temporary medical treatment, hydroquinone is used for treating melasma, chloasma, fading spots and discolorations.
As commonly used as hydroquinone is, there are also several damaging side effects that can occur. Using hydroquinone can cause allergic dermatitis, rebound hyper pigmentation (darkening of skin more than usual), dark knuckles and worst of, an irreversible skin condition called exogenous ochronosis.
Exogenous ochronosis is responsible for the dark blue black or purplish patches you see around the cheeks, forehead, back of the neck, hands, feet and elbows. It occurs mostly in people that have either used hydroquinone for a period of more than 2-3 months, or have used a high percentage of hydroquinone even for a short period (3% and up). Moreover, it’s very hard to accurately determine the amount of hydroquinone in several branded and unbranded products as many companies bend the legally acceptable form of hydroquinone to achieve drastic results, albeit, the terrible side effects.
Finally skin bleaching chemicals such as steroids and hydroquinone have been found to lead to skin cancer, liver and kidney damage!
It is advised that clients who want to embark on a skin lightening program should try and stick to natural plant based products. While natural lightening may not be as fast-acting and drastic as the harsher chemically derived ingredients, the results tend to be more long- lasting because natural skin lighteners tend to also possess anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. This rejuvenates the skin and reverses sun damage leading to a brighter, glowing complexion. These naturally derived skin lighteners, also lighten the skin in a way that has little to no side effects as they do not contain any harsh chemicals.
A good self-care do-it-yourself tip for brightening exfoliation is a homemade sugar scrub. This scrub contains natural antioxidants like vitamin C and skin lightening ingredients. Mix 4 tablespoons of finely ground sugar with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, one teaspoon of natural honey, ½ teaspoon of dry ground turmeric and the juice of one small lemon or lime. After bathing, apply to wet cleansed skin in circular motions, paying attention to rough skin such as the knees, elbows, and feet, until dissolved completely. Rinse off and pat your skin dry.
For a facial scrub, use the same recipe, but replace the sugar with salt. After exfoliation, apply a good skin oil to seal in the moisture and of course, protect those areas from the sun using sun avoidance and protection.
In summary, one should use caution when trying to initiate a skin lightening program. It is advisable to seek skincare recommendations from a reliable source with a long-standing reputation. Such a source can guarantee a high level of safety and efficacy by spelling out a good regimen using natural skin brightening products.
Additionally, sun avoidance and protection is an absolute requirement in preventing sun damage and achieving a brighter, youthful glow. Doing all these things can get us closer to achieving flawless, bright and youthful skin in a safe and natural way!