Skin bleaching: Is it worth it?

JESSICA MAWU-KOENYA BANSAH

Black is beautiful! Probably not. I say this because of the way young men and women are intentionally bleaching their skin in the name of toning it. If only they knew the detriments of their actions, maybe they would stop. Journey with us to find out the consequences of skin bleaching on humans.

What is skin bleaching?

People bleach everyday: some bleach their clothes, others their teeth or hair but many bleach their skin. When you bleach your teeth, it changes from whatever colour it used to be to a sparkling white colour. If you bleach a dark cloth, it changes colour from dark to white.

Skin bleaching refers to the act of lightening dark areas of the skin or obtaining an overall lighter complexion by the use of products. These products include bleaching soaps, creams, pills, injectables, or professional treatments like laser therapy and chemical peels.

When you bleach your skin, you change its dark appearance to a lighter appearance. Sometimes, it is uneven especially if it is not done by a professional. One may ask, how does bleaching work?

How skin bleaching works

There is a pigment in our skin called melanin. This pigment is produced in cells called melanocytes. There are different colors of melanin- black, brown which gives us the different shades of complexion. People with darker skin have more melanin than a lighter-skinned individual. This is mainly due to genetics and is slightly influenced by the environment, hormones, and chemicals.

When a person applies a bleaching agent to the skin, its aim is to reduce the concentration or production of melanin. This means that the melanin-producing cells-melanocytes are destroyed. Eventually, less melanin is produced and the skin becomes lighter in appearance.

Well, the mechanism sounds easy and simple. The skin is the largest external organ. Everything we put on the skin is absorbed by the blood through the blood vessels and depending on its purpose, sent to the rest of the body or work around a particular area of the skin. There are nerve endings on the skin as well.  

Just like Newton’s third law - To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The ingredients in bleaching products that are able to destroy the body cells are the cause of all the brouhaha. These products contain substances such as mercury, corticosteroids, lead, and the most common hydroquinone. Can you imagine some side effects of these products on your body?

Side effects of bleaching

1.     Mercury poisoning

Mercury poisoning caused by bleaching does not happen overnight. It occurs when there is a build-up of the products in your body. Hence, if you continue using a bleaching cream that contains mercury, it will rise to a level where it can be toxic to your body. It can cause symptoms such as numbness, muscle weakness, fatigue, and even high blood pressure. As the level of mercury increases in your body, it can cause brain problems such as tremors and memory loss. Even though it takes time for mercury to reach a point of toxicity in humans through bleaching agents, prevention is the best.

2.     Dermatitis

The use of bleaching agents that contain products such as hydroquinone can cause symptoms such as irritability, mild burning, redness, hives, dry scaly skin, and skin ulcers.

3.     Exogenous ochronosis

This is a skin disorder characterized by a blue-black pigmentation on the face or body as a result of using bleaching creams for a long period of time.  This is mainly caused by bleaching creams that contain hydroquinone.

4.     Steroid acne

It is a condition given to people having an acne-like skin condition as a result of a high amount of circulating corticosteroids in the blood. One way this occurs is by the use of bleaching products that contain corticosteroids. Symptoms include red bumps which are large and painful. They can be found on the chest, arms, and back. It can be treated but symptoms will go away when the person stops using the bleaching product.

5.     Nephrotic syndrome

It is a condition that affects the blood vessels of the kidneys. The kidneys filter waste and excess water from the body. Bleaching agents that contain mercury somehow affect these nephrotic blood vessels and cause major symptoms. Symptoms include swelling around the eyes, foamy urine, and even loss of appetite.

6.     Skin cancer

Some bleach their skin whilst others overdo such that it becomes difficult to return the skin to its original condition even when the individual stops using the bleaching agent. As made mentioned, bleaching destroys the melanin-producing cells which make the skin more sensitive to the sun. if such an individual does not cover the skin up, he or she will become more susceptible to getting skin cancer.

7.     Deforms the skin

Bleaching deforms the skin as it destroys the original composition and structure of the skin.

Some side effects can be seen immediately while others take years. No matter the excuse for bleaching, it has no health benefit to your system.

People are of the view that lighter-skinned individuals are more privileged when it comes to opportunities in the media, advertisement world, and so on. Are we part of the problem? Maybe!

Manufacturers are wise and will not put these chemicals on their products. They will classify then as skin toning products or whitening agents. Kindly avoid them. Are these products worth it? Your health is indeed your wealth!

References

  1. Healthline. Side effects and precautions of skin bleaching. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-bleaching#side-effects
  2. WebMD. Skin bleaching cream. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-22214/skin-bleaching-topical/details
BiologyMedicine

JESSICA MAWU-KOENYA BANSAH

A young lady who is excited to influence the society and world with the knowledge she has acquired.