Despite the warnings associated with using skin lightening products, some women may still want to try out their luck, especially whitening their face skin, commonly known as bleaching.
Last year, the Ministry of Health issued a list of prohibited cosmetics in reference to the Law No47/2012 gazetted on 14/01/2013 relating to the regulation and inspection of food and pharmaceutical products. The move was mainly to protect Rwandans from harmful cosmetics.
Some health experts believe that certain creams blemish the skin more than petroleum jellies, and that it is hard to know the right cream with low or no hydroguinone.
Due to this apparent lack of information about bleaching agents, it leads to most of people buying creams mainly for applying on the face for a smoother look to end up with bleaching products.
Medics say any product (cosmetics) that contain mercury and hydroquinone are often dangerous to the skin, and that when it comes to the skin, being cautious on what to apply on is important because the skin is more sensitive, especially the face compared to other areas of the body.
Why you should not bleach
According to Janvier Rusizina a doctor at La Nouvelle Clinic in Remera, Kigali, developing of acne, swelling of some parts of the skin, formation of dark spots, as well as irritation of the skin are just some of the side effects that may come with bleaching.
For those starting to bleach at an early age, Rusizina says they are putting their health at risk as they grow older.
“For instance, if someone starts using those products containing hydroquinone and mercury in their 20s, the skin could become thinner as the natural components of the skin diminish. This later causes more severe problems in later stages of their lives,” he says.
Rusizina emphasises that presence of hydroquinone and mercury in the bleaching cosmetics is very harmful to the skin.
“Hydroquinone is a very sensitive chemical that makes the cells of the skin completely dead. The big part of that is that once the skin is distorted, it can never be repaired. This reason should be a warning for those who are planning to lighten their skin,” he warns.
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist and dietician at Amazon Complimentary Therapy in Remera, Kigali, says any product that contains mercury and hydroquinone is harmful to the body.
“For instance, the skin is responsible in facilitating the breathing of the entire body with spores which allow the body to exchange the gases by removing toxins and waste through sweat. This means that when such harmful products are applied to it, they inhibit the exchange of gases, reducing the process of waste removal,” he adds.
Besides, he says that the chemicals used for bleaching may kill the cells found on the skin (melanin), exposing the skin to dangerous diseases such as cancer.
Achille Manirakiza, a training clinical oncologist at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Tanzania, also concurs with Kamanzi saying bleaching products normally contain ingredients that are harmful to human body.
“There are two naughty ingredients added in these products, which are mercury and hydroquinone. The latter does harm by whitening the skin as it prevents melanin production,” he says.
Manirakiza notes that, mercury, when contained in a lotion, gets absorbed and enters the bloodstream.
“Mercury does not only harm the skin but also can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, irreversibly,” he says.
When such products are used for long, the melanin found in the skin is destroyed, and can even disappear for good because one is exposed more to ultra-violet rays from the sun, according to Manirakiza.
He, however, explains that ultra-violet rays are responsible for about 90 per cent of skin cancers by themselves.
“By interfering with the normal DNA structure, adding in imperfections, the cancerous cells are able to grow,” he says.
Manirakiza further notes that the skin cells, along with a few other cells of the human body are on a constant death and regeneration toll, partly caused by what they get exposed to like bathing water, but are as well liable to changing within minutes or hours.
Standardisation of some ingredients in cosmetics
Article 3, Nº20/38 of 26/02/2016, of the Ministerial Order gives the list of cosmetics whose use is prohibited in Rwanda.
For instance, in the article, according the Ministry of Health, every cosmetic product shall have a label indicating its ingredients, and the label shall also indicate the concentration level of any cosmetic product.
Mercury and hydroquinone are among the ingredients that are prohibited in some cosmetics.
According to Raymond Murenzi, the director general at Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS), people should use that law to protect themselves from harmful products.
“Everyone is expected to comply with the law, especially those importing or selling the products,” he says.
Natural ways of making your skin fairer
For Eugene Hategekimana, a nurse at Polyfam Polyclinique Familiale in Kisment, the best way to achieve skin beauty is by sticking to the right foods.
“Eat right, do some exercises and use the right body cream products, especially those rich in vitamin E to ensure a beautiful skin,” he says.
Hategekimana cites collagen and aloe vera as some of jellies that work wonders for any skin type.
He also notes that daily cleaning and moistening of the face will ensure the dream face look.
Kamanzi, on the other hand, says plants are composed of vitamins that are capable of making ones skin smoother and fairer. When consumed, they protect the skin giving it a beaming look.
Kamanzi says hydrotherapy (treatment by hot water) and sauna are also good activities one can engage in to attain good looking skin.
He points out that this is because they facilitate the body to eliminate toxins from the body through the skin in the process of sweating, leaving the skin clean and clear.
“Vitamins A, E and C ensure a good looking skin. They also protect the skin from cancer as they act as anti-cancer agents. They as well promote the creation of collagens that gives the skin a smoother look,” he says.
Vitamin E increases vasodilisation (the diameter of veins), which allows normal blood flow, thus helping the skin breath by expelling toxins through sweating.
How to do away with scars and spots
For those who may be worried about patches and some spots or scars due to either injuries or acne, Dr Richard Kanimba, a Kigali-based dermatologist, says the best way is to seek advice from a dermatologist.
Depending on the degree of the scar, Kanimba says one can either treat or leave it. For instance, in the first case is where the scar has reached the outer layer known as epidermis, while the second scenario is if the scar has reached the second layer of the skin called dermis. Here one should worry not as the body itself is capable of healing the scar.
“On the contrary, when the injury has penetrated up to the subcutaneous area, there is nothing that can be done since the damage has already affected the fibroblasts and adipose cells,” says Kanimba.
He adds that in case of inflammation of the skin, plants rich in vitamin C can help in healing. One can either consume them or apply their juice on the affected area.
Such foods include tomatoes and other foods rich in vitamin A.