“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” one of the most prophetic statement by the late reggae superstar Bob Marley. Is black no longer beautiful? When I was in Nigeria, people looked at me as though I was crazy when I would hang out or run in the sun. Everybody was afraid of getting darker. My skin was lighter because I had just left the winter weather in America and I wanted to get darker. Have our minds become so warped that we would risk our lives to lighten our skin? In the past, it used to be that it was just women that bleached their skin. Now, it’s everyone. The ‘bleachers’ are getting younger and younger.
Skin bleaching involves the application of various cosmetic products (e.g., creams, soap, and lotions) with the aim of obtaining a lightened skin by reducing its melanin content. The consequences of skin bleaching can be severe. Most skin lightening creams may cause adverse complications which could be life-threatening. Prolonged use of hydroquinone-based creams leads to a paradoxical increased pigmentation of the skin, called exogenous ochronosis. Another serious complication is loss of elasticity of the skin and impaired wound healing. When mercury-based creams are used for bleaching, mercury can be absorbed through the skin leading to mercury poisoning, which is manifested by a range of symptoms including psychiatric, neurological and kidney problems. Some skin diseases (e.g. Tinea incognito) are observed on babies, whose mothers have extensive Tinea corporis complicating the use of corticosteroid-based creams for bleaching. The babies acquire the fungal infections from the skin of their mothers due to the inevitable close skin contact during breast feeding. With the use of steroid-based creams, there is a risk of multiple complications from long-term use of corticosteroids. These complications include:
(b) endocrinologic: such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and suppression of growth in children;
(c) cutaneous: such as steroid addiction syndrome, allergic contact dermatitis to some ingredients in the steroid creams, atrophy of the skin, and bacterial, viral and fungal infections of the skin .
Skin bleaching has constituted a public health concern in many African countries since the 1980s. Specifically, it was found to be practiced by up to 52 percent of women and 28 percent of men in Dakar, Senegal (6), 66 percent of the inhabitants of Brazzaville, Congo, and by more than 75 percent of both women and men in Lagos, Nigeria. Public health campaigns have been launched to enlighten African people on the health risks associated with skin bleaching. However, like many other public health problems (e.g., obesity), skin bleaching is a societal problem having deep psychological roots.
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