By Michael Kanaabi Dollar
Skin lightening or what is commonly referred to as bleaching is a phenomenon that is here to stay according to those doing it and those selling products that aid it. With new trends coming into the practice like injectables and pills, it is imperative to interrogate the practice from a medical and safety point of view to ensure health and safety are kept intact while at it.
“The gentlemen keep looking at the ladies with lighter complexions first so when we the rest get a chance to lighten up, we go for it too because we want the same attention” Jane Nadunga a saloon owner says.
However skin lightening according to Dr. Ronald Katureebe a skin specialist shouldn’t be done by people without any medical knowledge about the skin. “Reason is these people doing this kind of bleaching using mixed creams put fast results ahead of customer health often ending in disaster and many times they carryout procedures involving injectables which can be disastrous when mishandled.”
What goes wrong?
To achieve quick results chemicals like Hydroquinone which if used in small concentration under 4% in skin products are considered safe are instead used in larger dangerous concentrations in mixed creams to achieve quick lightening results. “ Being a carcinogenic chemical, it’s long term use in skin lightening can lead to cancer among other side effects.
Mercury is another chemical used in lightening creams that can be hazardous. Mercury can lead to kidney damage, cause neurological disorders and lead to abnormalities to unborn babies when it gets into the expectant mother's blood stream during pregnancy and reaches the foetus.
Topical steroids which are prescription creams used in treatment of skin ailments like allergic rashes and eczema are also added to these mixed lightening creams.
“These ones when used continuously for more than 3 months can cause thining of the skin (atrophy) which results into stretch marks and poor wound healing. In case usage is prolonged much longer, they can lead to serious medical complications like Cushings disease, abnormal weight gain and diabetes as well.”
Namakula (Exogenous Ochronosis)
This is one of the most prominent and common side effects of skin lightening or bleaching gone wrong. It manifests with darkening of the skin especially around the cheek bones and is very hard to treat because it is a result of pigment deposition in the lower layer of the skin known as the dermis.
However when detected early Dr. Katureebe says it can be treated with some level of success using laser treatment and medical peels available at Kampala Dermatology clinic Bugolobi.
Extra sensitivity to light is another side effect of lightening when it does go wrong.
Correcting the Effects
On a personal level Dr. Katureebe recommends putting on a sunhat for those with sensitivity to Sun rays and light, use of sun screen and avoiding direct exposure to the Sun.
On top of that a visit to a Skin specialist or Dermatologist is recommended as well to have an extensive review of the case and offer possible treatment.
According to Dr. Katureebe one may need to carry out other internal body tests for blood sugar, kidney tests and cancer to ascertain the extent of damage then treatment can be offered.
While skin lightening is often done voluntarily, there are a number of medical conditions that may require skin lightening as treatment. These mainly fall under pigmentation disorders which include post inflammatory hyper pigmentation (PIH), Melasma and photo sensitivity all requiring treatment that disrupts the formation of melanin, the dark pigment in skin. This leads to skin lightening as a result although done medically.
How can Skin lightening be done safely?
Firstly whoever may require any form of lightening for medical reasons or voluntarily needs to see a Skin specialist first and avoid doing it underground.
Secondly Dr. Katureebe recommends a number of plant based alternatives available at Kampala Dermatology clinic which can be used to lighten one’s skin safely with no adverse effects in the long term.
There are also a number of safe cosmetic procedures that can be done to improve and lighten one’s skin tone. These include use of medical peels, laser treatment and medical facials to mention but a few.