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Beware of Skin Lightening Creams

Jan 18, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Skin lightening creams - often sold illegally without a prescription - may contain dangerous ingredients that could put your health at risk.

Some of these skin lightening creams, including Hyprogel, made in Germany, contain the powerful steroid clobetasol propionate and includes a warning to use only as directed by a doctor.  One dermatologist told The New York Times that clobetasol propionate is the most potent topical steroid used in dermatology, and there are no indications for using it on the face. Still, prescription creams made with the steroid were being sold over-the-counter for as little as $3.99 in some stores in Brooklyn, the Times said.

Another ingredient found in many skin lightening creams is hydroquinone, which at strengths of 4 percent is prescribed for short-term use to lighten skin blemishes. According to The New York Times, over-the-counter versions of “Fair & White” from France only contain 1.9 percent hydroquinone. However, bootleg versions are available that have as much as 5 percent.

Dermatologists say they are seeing more and more women of Hispanic and African descent suffering from complications related to the use of skin lightening creams.  Complications from using clobetasol propionate over the long-term can include hypertension, elevated blood sugar and suppression of the body’s natural steroids. The misuse of hydroquinone can actually discolor the skin, leading to a blue-black darkening.

According to the Times, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been considering a ban on over-the-counter sales of hydroquinone since 2006. It is already banned in England and France

As for clobetasol propionate, the FDA would not say if it was planning on taking action to stop illegal sales, saying it doesn’t discuss enforcement actions as a matter of policy.


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