Skin Bleaching Chemical Hydroquinone Legal In US, Despite Cancer PotentialNov 28, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Hydroquinone, a product used in some skin bleaching agents, could have dangerous health consequences. The toxic substance is banned in the UK, but in the US the use of hydroquinone in over-the-counter cosmetics is restricted, but allowed. Despite its legality, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that testing cannot rule out hydroquinone's potential cancer risk in humans.
Skin bleaching—using chemical or natural products to lighten skin color—is common in the US and other countries and psychologists say consumer demand can be traced to the belief that lighter-skinned or white people are more successful, intelligent, and sexually desirable. Cosmetics industry experts feel that as Asian, African, and African-Caribbean communities grow, so too will ethnic spending power for products marketed to lighten skin tone, some containing hydroquinone. Cosmetics industry analysts say cosmetics companies realize there's money to be made here and claim minority communities are an underserved market with a long tradition of buying bleaching products, legal or otherwise.
There has been a perceptible increase in skin creams, soaps, and deodorants containing whitening and bleaching agents. Some experts blame consumer demand on the media centering on fair-skinned celebrities, claiming the media promotes an image that those who are light-skinned are successful and attractive. Recently, an African American D.J. was criticized for offering light-skinned women free admission into a Detroit nightclub. Colorism isn't limited to any one ethnic group. A commercial seen on Indian satellite channels and YouTube shows a glum, dark-skinned man who, after using lightening cream, turns many shades whiter, walking with confidence, and with a beautiful woman running to his side. Many in Africa are using bleaching cream to lighten their skin because they associate lighter skin with beauty. Despite attempts by the Ghanaian government to ban it, skin bleaching is on the rise.
Dermatologists say bleaching creams with hydroquinone are safe to reduce the appearance of age spots or smaller blemishes, but only if used as directed. But other skin specialists say abusing products, for example by rubbing the product on the entire face, neck, or body can be dangerous over time, saying that there is no safe way to bleach skin beyond its natural color. Other experts say that skin bleaching, while very popular, contains toxic chemicals that are linked to weakened immune systems, organ failure, and even death.
Initially, the bleaching cream will appear to lighten the skin, but oxidation between the sun and chemicals starts darkening the skin. At this point, increased use of the cream tends to occur, causing the skin to break and chemicals to penetrate into the bloodstream and reach major organs where serious damage can occur.
The trend of skin bleaching in Africa is similar to that of tanning in the US. People tan their skin because they think tanned skin is more beautiful. As with skin bleaching, there are many risks involved with tanning. Evidence links UVA rays to malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Overexposure to any UV rays can cause loss of skin elasticity, premature aging, and cancer; damage to the skin is irreversible. Despite all the risks, people continue to try to make themselves more beautiful with dangerous methods like skin bleaching and tanning.