We have an epidemic. It probably has a psychological aspect which we will not dwell on, but let us know further, what is at stake whenever a purchase of an unknown skin lotion or soap is made, for whatever reason, be it the scent or the look, the name that we heard of, or simply the price tag.
At least four women out of ten bleach in Africa according to various World Health Organisation reports. Of recent, a study observed that the skin bleaching products industry was a multi-million sector, and this has gone on the span of the last four decades currently (Glenn 2008). Reported effects go on for more than 30 per cent of long-term users and include anything from a burn to skin cancer.
And, must we say, skins don’t lie; a long harassment over the cheek bones shows with literal wounds, much as anywhere, that parts on the skin, grow tired at some point and gets back to a shy purple, over time.
We, of dark skins, have an added protein, in surplus, deeper in the skin called melanin. Anyone has it, but genetics, from an albino to a Caucasian, play a role on whether or not it can be expressed better. From the little cells producing it, they are transferred off to the visible skin and make an individual’s skin colour.
The two naughtiest ingredients added in the products are mercury and hydroquinone. The latter does harm by skin whitening, as it prevents melanin production by, luckily, a reversible phenomenon. Mercury, on a worrisome note, when contained in a lotion product gets absorbed and enters the bloodstream. More than a decade ago, a report in neighbouring Tanzania has given account of the findings of toxic levels of mercury in the urine of women, first thought to be caused by exposure to gold mines, but later found to be consequent to mercury containing soaps (NERI, 1999). And on another stake, mercury does not only harm the skin but also would cause damage the brain and kidneys, irreversibly.
Perhaps, the urge to belong to a ‘beautiful’-whiter cast turning to be a half cast would be the psychology behind. Maybe not. The issue is, at long term, what was naturally to protect the individual against Ultra-Violet lights from the sun, not filtered by the Ozone – read melanin – is being harmed, for long, and could go, for good.
And these lights (ultra violet) make an outstanding figure of 90 per cent of skin cancers, by themselves. How? By interfering with the normal DNA structure, adding in imperfections, the long-awaited par for cancerous cells to grow in. Naturally.
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 as well, their labile conformity of ever changing within minutes to hours.
This actually means, on a cellular level that the mechanisms of regulation of that regeneration are very keen to correct the tiniest errors, in order to make the individual cancer free. If, with addition of the mentioned products, the skin gets exposed to the naturally prevented threats, however much one might ignore this form of awareness, skin cancer is as real as the products are being applied at this time, to the dot.
As much as we consume processed foods not only by looking on the names, but also ingredients, it would be wiser to do the same with skin products. Authorities too, whom I believe are on the right track already, to get these threats away and the populations aware of it.
Black is beautiful.
Dr Achille Manirakiza
Clinical Oncologist in Training, Ocean Road Cancer Institute, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania