Skin bleaching at a glance
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Bleaching, the art of systematic removal of the top layer of the black skin with the help of corrosive soaps and creams containing hydroquinone has finally landed in the small part of West Africa.
A lot of middle aged women and a few courageous men will leave to discover the joys and inevitably the pains of skin bleaching which can cause harm to the central nervous system, cause anxiety and depression.
This is not a medical exercise nor the product in use are pharmaceutical or medical products but rather destined for cosmetic use that is left for dermatologist who at the end of the day have the duty of repairing the damaged skin. The scope here is limited to the social implications of skin bleaching.
In The Gambia at present, it is an irrefutable statement that nearly everybody has felt the heat of the economic flame with the increasingly high cost living, some people still have the resources and time to indulge in the dangerous luxury of bleaching.
Bleaching creams do not come cheap. Prices range from 100 upwards, for the more exotic ones and duration of use for serious bleachers is between four to nine days . Would you use a cream or soap that may have the following long terms side effects- skin cancer, liver damage, kidney damage or poisoning?
Skin bleaching or whitening is a controversial topic as it is closely intertwined with the detrimental effects on health, identity, self-image, racial supremacy and colonial mentality.
There is a myth that lighter paler complexions portray beauty, riches and success. This misguided belief has resulted in a huge market in the world of skin bleaching products and some people use them knowing what the side effects are.
The problem with these creams is that many of them contain hydroquinone which a variety of studies have linked to
•increased risk of adrenal gland problems.
•increased risk of all health conditions associated with mercury poisoning.
•or cause physical changes to the skin and tissues surrounding the eyes, ears and joints.
There must be a fundamental question why do we have colour in our skin? There are three reasons for the colour in our skin.
•The cells contained within the dermis and epidermis provide a natural yellow white colour.
•Superficial blood vessels provide a blue or red tint determined by oxygen content.
•Melanin produced by melanocytes scattered within the basal layer of the skin.
The melanin determines how dark a person's skin is. More melanin production results in darker skin and it has a major protective role. It plays a mayor protective role. It is the skins own natural protection from the harmful ultra violet rays of the sun without melanin. The skin is extremely vulnerable and would have to cover exposed skin with sunscreen or risk a greater skins cancer.
There are two main chemical found in most skin lightening products, Hydroquinone or mercury. Hydroquinone (C6H602) is a severely toxic and very powerful chemical used in photo processing, the manufacture of rubber and is an active agent in hair dyness. Mercury in the form of mercury chloride and ammoniated mercury is carcinogenic.
Hydroquinone or mercury applied to the skin in long term actually react with ultra violet rays and re-oxidise, leading to more pigmentation and premature ageing. Prolonged use of hydroquinone thickness collagen fibers damaging the connective tissues and in the long term, the chemical can damage vital organs and lead to liver and kidney failure and mercury poisoning.
I therefore ask, why do people engage in this past time? Are they ashamed of their natural blackness? Is a woman more beautiful or attractive when yellow? or is this a celebration of idleness.
Everywhere in The Gambia one is confronted with a bleached face, some of them really ridiculous with three faces lighter than other parts of their bodies, legs that constitute piteous sights to behold; specks of black and yellow jostling of positions .
These women take pains to wear long skirts and would never be caught with their necks or backs exposed. They have a lot to hide. So I ask why do people bleach? Worst still when you start bleaching, you continue the exercise otherwise you become much blacker than before. Futility therefore is the name of this game.
Since society determines and promotes acceptable forms of behavior, fashion, style amongst others. The onus lies with parents, responsible adults and leaders to ensure that youths are encouraged towards avenues that develop positive self concepts and other ways that improve confidence levels, so youths can accept themselves and strive for mental or intellectual development and consequently aspire to positions of responsibility, instead of channeling and concentrating their productive energy on an exercise like skin bleaching.
So while colour lightening is a personal decision, it is important to be safe than be sorry.
Author: Fatou Jallow