SKIN-LIGHTENERS IN NIGERIA
by Adedoyin Shobo
There are several reasons why people may consider remodelling or manipulating the complexion of their skin. The chief reasons being for health and aesthetic purposes.
While in a life time, some would likely need a doctor’s consultation on certain skin diseases like vitiligo, post-inflammatory melanoderma, solar lentigo amongst others. Majority of people refer to artificial means to change the appearance of their skin.
Centuries ago, popular myth backed by evolution science rode on the theme of racial superiority. Even though I honestly reckon that the initiators of the idea of superiority meant something different with respect to whites, blacks and other coloured people. The belief went as far as the difference in skin colour which in turn latched onwards to the pathway of slavery mentality.
So someone says ‘hey I don’t think you’re smart’ and the next thing you consider is how less than a human you must be. Somewhere in between you prefer their weaknesses and their opinion of you because somehow it makes you more like them…special…like an elite breed.
Well, today’s world ain’t all that different. The obsession with skin care products has increased to dangerous high levels.
In fact I consider it equal to many public health issues like cancer, tropical diseases, depression, cardiovascular diseases. We have observed people take precarious journeys in the quest for beauty in spite of screaming alerts of irreversible health consequences…JUST for the LOVE of being WHITE.
The Nigerian media space like the rest of the world is filled with individuals with juicy tales of their overnight miracles from ‘baba dudu’ to ‘oyinbo pepe’. Social networking community like facebook and instagram have gone berserk with many ‘before & after’ photo shoot. And God help you if you can’t pepper or SLAY them!!!
I doubt if I can count a lot of ’em melanin-popping sisters and brothers. They have suddenly become endangered species somehow.
Speaking of ‘melanin’
Melanin is that natural substance or pigment in your skin that gives your skin its colour. So wondering why you are black, brown, yellow? It is because of this pigment. Without melanin, you would almost be white in your skin.
Melanin is found in the skin, hair and eye and is responsible for their distinct colours.
In fact, the difference between the shades of black and brown persons is primarily due to the content of melanin in their skin.
Secondary factors may as a result of the amount of blood in blood vessels, skin thickness and content of carotenoids in the skin.
Science tells us that apart from giving us our wonderful skin colour, melanin protects us from the dangerous effect of direct ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Without this protection, we would be doomed to a myriad of skin illnesses including cancers, rapid ageing etc.
In fact, nature has created just the right amount of balance to ensure you don’t suffer too little melanin (hypopigmentation) or too much melanin (hyperpigmentation).
Considering these facts, one would ask why the obssession with skincare products that mops up any trace of melanin? Well, let simply blame of widesprad ignorance.
Various studies since the late 20th century notably in the United States found that blacks make up the highest percentage of those that patronage this skincare products.
One Aljazeera report ranked Nigeria first in sub-Saharan Africa with respect to the use of skin bleachers.
So again the obsession is on the quest of being ‘fair’ or near white in complexion. But doesn’t this illusion run deep into the fabric of our socio-cultural life?
In Africa, light-skinned person (compared to the darker skin) have been associated with better economic and social status. It is an ideal for beauty. For women, simply being light-skinned could be a lottery for marriage.
Culturally, many of the aspect of the Africa has been set for this sort of mind imprisonment. Little wonder the boom in the market trend for the skincare products in these parts.
A quick skimming through our local markets and beauty studios typically today and you would observe such names as ‘skin-whiteners, skin-toners’ etc; never ‘skin-bleachers’ because thats is what there really are. Plus the name ‘skin-bleacher’ is offensive, that would be counter-intuitive. Right?
What are ‘skin-whiteners’ and how do they work?
Skin whitening is a term used to describe the lightening of the skin through artificial means like cream, lotion, soap, powder, serum, pills, face mask, facial cleanser, spray and injection.
Most of whiteners are chemical-based requiring topical appication and ingestion of pills. Among the major active principles used for their skin-whitening ability include mercury-containing compounds, hydroquinone, glutathione, tretinoin, kojic acid, azelaic acid, corticosteroids, ascorbic acid etc. Other approaches to skin whitening are laser treatment and surgery.
Scientific investigations highlight that for the body to produce melanin, certain enzymes play key roles. It is these enzymes that form targets for the actions of the skin whiteners. They stop the body’s ability to make melanin leading to a lighter skin appearance.
In addition to inhibiting the activity of these key enzymes; some whiteners work by reprogramming the way the cells (melanocytes) that deliver melanin to the skin, hair and eye. Others work by either reversibly or irreversibly destroying the melanocytes at the DNA or genetic level. In other words, no melanocyte: no melanin = no colour.
As a scientist, knowing the way most medicine work, they are not without side effects or adverse effect. I emphasize SIDE effect and ADVERSE effect. Some treatment for skin conditions like acne, eczema, rash, irratations have other secondary effect which may include whitening. This is called side effect but when undesirable are classified as adverse effect.
The skin whiteners hence are not without their undesirable consequences. I would outline a few.
-Photophobia, burning sensation, worsening of acne, rash;
-Red appearance(erythema), secondary infections, colloidal milium;
-Exogenous ochronosis (a dark skin mark or blue black sooty pigmentation on the skin especially from use of hydroquinone-containing products).
-Atrophy skin changes (leading to thinning, loss of eleasticity, dilatatation of superficial blood vessels);
-Impairment of wound healing, hypertrichosis ;
-manifestation of cushing’s syndrome, hyperglycemia and glucosuria;
-suppression of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis & intracranial hypertension (especially in paedatric patients);
-Heavy metal toxicity;
-hyperpigmentation of the skin, fetal toxicity in pregnant women;
-Melanomas (skin cancer) etc…
This list is not all-inclusive, trust me! Some of the effects could very well be as a result of misuse or abuse of the products, toxic nature of the chemicals used and other impurities. Also their absorption into the blood stream from the blood vessel in the skin could lead to complications.
All these complications for the sake of beauty. REALLY?!!!
In the Nigeria context, where many abnormalities go uncheck; where regulation of the market commodities is near zero. And the ubiquitous presence of ‘backyard laboratories’ in the big cities with nondescript location is still a huge heart ache. The public health challenge of fake and unstandardized production of consumer goods is also beyond mind-boggling.
In a country where many consumer products brandish NAFDAC registration number (fake or authentic) while there is disregard and wide non-compliance of laws guiding business operation in Nigeria (for example: use of narrow-mouthed tube versus wide-mouthed tubes). People create these fictitious numbers to deceive the public without going through rigorous screening of their product. All for selfish capitalist gains.
So in a typical twilight in Lagos, take a stroll to the local market and you would be treated to the colourful display of unverified, unscreened and unregulated skin care products sold by roadside vendors. No wonder the rise in cases of death as a result of poisoning and complications arising from medicines (prescribed or over-the-counter).
OTHER STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW!!!
I -Skin bleaches must be used with a sunscreen or sun protection factor (else the skin will re-darken, a very important fact that the skin bleach package label usually fails to disclose).
II -The risk of exogenous ochronosis due to indiscrimimate use of these beauty formulations.
III -The use of skin bleaches should be limited to lightening certain dark areas of the skin.
IV -Skin bleach agents would not lighten the overall complexion(creating even skin tone), remove freckles and make scar disappears.
V -Skin bleaches might not work on very dark skin.
VI -Most skin bleaches work on the epidermis(outer layer of skin) rather than the deeper inner layer (dermis). Research show that darker skinned people have more dermis than other people.
VII -Contrary to some claims, skin bleaches are not effective on some blemishes like moles, stretch marks and pimples.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
-Always contact a dermatologist for medical attention when treating skin conditions by long term use of skincare products.
-Adhere to manufacturer’s instruction.
-Personally, I’d say if it’s not of the best quality (skin condition or not), don’t go cheap as it might be a one-way ticket to an expensive health complication.
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