Is Bleaching Good for Your Skin

By Dr. Okechukwu Amako, MBBS (Ibadan)
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Many people who are dark in complexion, both men and women, have, at one time or the other, thought about getting a bleaching cream for their skin to look fair. Some proceed to get such bleaching creams and start using them after consulting friends who have been bleaching their skin for a while. However, most of these people, if not all of them, don't bother to consult a medical doctor for expert advice and guidelines before applying any of these bleaching creams to their skin.

Is bleaching perfectly good for the skin? The colour of your skin is determined by the amount of a pigment, called melanin, which it contains. People with dark complexion has more melanin in their skin compared to those with fair skin.

Bleaching creams work by reducing the amount of melanin produced by the skin, thereby making dark-skinned people lighter in complexion. Medical doctors, especially dermatologists (doctors who are specialists in treating diseases of the skin), recommend specific bleaching creams as part of the treatment for scars from acne, dark spots on the skin and some hormone-induced skin discoloration; in this case, the recommended bleaching cream is to be used on specific areas of the skin with the scars or spots.

On the other hand, many people who use bleaching creams do so for cosmetic reasons, one of which is to have a fair skin, meaning they apply such creams to their entire body to achieve this.

This cosmetic use of bleaching creams is where most people expose themselves to the possible risks associated with such creams and which can cause several health problems years after using them.

1. Many bleaching creams sold in this part of the world contain mercury. Mercury is a poisonous agent that can damage the kidneys (lead to kidney disease). When such bleaching creams are applied to the skin, some are absorbed and the mercury in them travel through the blood vessels to the kidneys where they will be excreted in urine. Mercury is very toxic to the kidneys and constant exposure slowly but progressively damages them.

Mercury is also dangerous to other organs in the body such as the brain, meaning prolonged use of anything containing mercury can contribute to health problems such as mental health issues.

Pregnant women using bleaching creams predispose their unborn babies to mercury which can impact the development of these babies' brains and kidneys.

2. Melanin protects the skin from the cancer-causing effects of the sun for people who constantly stay under the sun. So, using bleaching creams for a long time significantly reduces the amount of melanin in the skin, increasing the risk of developing skin cancer from sunlight exposure.

3. Some bleaching creams also contain steroids which can delay wound healing or increase the risk of skin infection in people using them for cosmetic reasons.

To be on the safe side, avoid using bleaching creams if you don't have any spots or scars from acne. If you must use a bleaching cream for changing your skin colour, consult a medical doctor, preferably a dermatologist, for advice and recommendations before going ahead. Also, check the label of any bleaching cream you buy to ensure it doesn't contain mercury (look out for things like calomel, mercuric, mercurous or mercurio as they signify the creams contain mercury).

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For more advice and help, consult a doctor.
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Published Wednesday, May 10th 2017

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