Due to popular demand, I would like to discuss the chemical ingredients found in some bleaching, toning and whitening products. Over the course of my advocacy project for better healthcare systems and self care, I have received a lot of questions about this, which has prompted the need for this article.
I must say the motive for discussion is non judgmental, I just want to create awareness and encourage people to be body-vigilant and practice self care.
For this article, exclusions include the use of skin lightening treatments under the care of a dermatologist or doctor for skin conditions like hyper-pigmentation.
I conducted a mini poll on social media recently, I asked a question – Do you think products applied on the skin get absorbed into the blood stream, 80% of the people that responded said yes, 10% said No and another 10% said Not sure.
Well evidence has shown that products applied on the skin in the form of creams, lotions, patches can get absorbed into the skin, as the skin layer is embedded with blood vessels as well, hence the motive behind the use of medicated skin patches, for drug delivery systems.
So let’s understand the makeup of the human skin:
The skin is the largest organ of the body, with a total area of about 20 square feet. The skin protects us from microbes and the elements, helps regulate body temperature, and permits the sensations of touch, heat, and cold.
Skin has three layers: Epidermis, dermis, hypodermis. These layer constitute hair follicles, sweat glands, fat connective tissues and blood vessels.
- The epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, provides a waterproof barrier and creates our skin tone.
- The dermis, beneath the epidermis, contains tough connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands.
- The deeper subcutaneous tissue (hypodermis) is made of fat and connective tissue.
The skin’s color is created by special cells called melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin. Melanocytes are located in the epidermis.
What determines your skin colour? The colour of the skin is “determined by a person’s genetic make-up, and it involves the pigment melanin. Melanin is made by special cells called melanocytes which can be found in certain layers of the skin. Melanin production is a complex process. The amount of melanin produced, the type of melanin formed and how it is distributed throughout the skin determines the skin’s colour. Melanin is also the pigment responsible for the colour of hair’.
According to the London Trading standards, ‘The following ingredients found in some skin lightening products have been proven to be harmful to health and cause permanent skin damage: Harmful Ingredients – most common ones are Hydroquinone, Mercury and Steriods”
Possible side effects:
Possible risks of creams containing hydroquinone, corticosteroids or mercury include:
- skin turning dark or too light
- thinning of the skin
- visible blood vessels in the skin
- kidney, liver or nerve damage
- abnormalities in a newborn baby (if used during pregnancy)
If you are in doubt about any product you are using on your skin, a good place to start is to double-check if the product has been approved by the appropriate regulatory agencies in your country.
Approved products fit for human use should be registered; also be mindful of using products that the manufacturers do not list all the ingredients.
Analysis by the agencies could help reveal the actual ingredients contained in those products. Below are examples of regulatory agencies for different countries:
- UK- MHRA- Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
- USA- FDA-Food and Drug administration
- Nigeria- NAFDAC- National agency for food ,drug administration and control
This article is not aimed at influencing your decision to use certain products on your skin, Discussion was borne out of the desire to educate and create some form of awareness on the effects of certain chemical substances when applied on the skin.
If you are concerned about any chemical ingredient or products you apply on the skin, please speak to your local pharmacist or see your doctor.
I would advise you to always seek medical advice, weigh the risk benefit ratio, report all skin problems to your pharmacist or doctor, check with the regulatory agencies in your country to ensure products you use on your skin are safe, approved and registered.
Your skin is a very important organ in your body, look after it and be body-vigilant.