Media has a great impact on people’s lives. We are exposed to the media almost every day and in almost everything we do. With such high exposure to the media, the way we talk, walk, dress and interact with others be it in society or at work is influenced.
Some of these influences are positive, but not every media message we consume comes with a positive benefit regarding the way we respond to it. And most of the media messages that come with negative effects are in commercial advertisements that represent women as people who’s beauty is defined in falling in love and being attractive (light skinned, slim and tall). This has caused low self – esteem in most dark skinned African women, and has made them to resort to skin bleaching.
One African country that has the highest population of people who bleach, with almost three quarters of them being women is Zimbabwe.
Skin bleaching refers to the use of skin lightening products such as bleaching creams, soaps, and pills, as well as professional treatments like chemical peels and laser therapy applying them to dark areas of the skin to achieve an overall lighter complexion.
There is no health benefit to skin bleaching. Results aren’t guaranteed and there’s evidence that it can result in serious side effects and complications. But if you’re considering skin bleaching, it’s important to understand the risks.
How skin bleaching works
Skin bleaching reduces the concentration or production of a skin pigment called melanin in the skin, which is produced by melanocytes cells in the human body. And the amount of melanin in every person’s skin is mostly determined by genetics. Thus resulting in dark and light skinned people. People with dark skin have more melanin, than people with light skin.
When you apply a skin bleaching product to the skin, it decreases the number of melanocytes in your skin. This can result in lighter skin and a more even appearance to the skin.
However, skin bleaching affects melanin production, hence causing side effects. It has been associated with a number of adverse health effects because some of the skin bleaching products are made with poisonous substances such as mercury and others. Some of these side effects can be mild or severe and they include sensitivity to light which can result to skin cancer, numbness, high blood pressure, fatigue, kidney failure, swelling, skin ulcers and neurologic symptoms, such as tremor, memory loss and irritability, among others.
There are no specific health benefits to skin bleaching, but it can have a desirable cosmetic effect on the skin when used to treat certain skin conditions such as minimizing dark spots (sun spots or age spots), evening skin tone or treating reactions like ring worms or heat rash.
How to use skin bleaching products
Use varies from product to product. Skin lightening creams are typically applied only to dark areas of skin once or twice a day, while the soaps can be used for the whole dark body area such as the face or whole body. However pills and injections cannot be applied externally as they work from within the body.
When using these skin lightening products such as creams and soaps, it’s advisable to follow the directions given by a doctor or on the packaging. This usually involves:
- applying the product sparingly using clean hands or a cotton pad
- avoiding contact with your surrounding skin, eyes, nose, and mouth
- washing your hands thoroughly after use
- avoiding touching the treated area against another person’s skin
- applying sunscreen to prevent skin damage from UV exposure
Most skin lightening products are not recommended for darker skin tones and could cause hyperpigmentation. Skin lightening treatments are also not recommended for use by children or people who are pregnant or nursing.