The month of May is skin cancer awareness month. This year, the American Academy of Dermatology is focusing on skin protection from the damaging UV rays. Exposure from ultraviolet rays of the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
Since my audience is mainly of African origin, I want to talk about a very sensitive topic in our community from a medical point of view: skin bleaching. I know a lot of people are on this table.
Considering the influence of western culture and the portrayal of beauty by media houses, there is a lot of pressure to conform to what the world feels beauty should be. This is seen in the entertainment industry, where stars a lot of young people look up to admit to bleaching their skin. There is a general perception that light skin is more desirable than darker skin. It is up to us to celebrate our own beauty, as there are so many beautiful shades of black.
Bleach is literally a chemical used in removing stains and whitening clothes.
There is actually a condition called skin hyper-pigmentation, where parts of the skin are darker than other parts. It is caused by a number of factors: from hormonal imbalances, to increasing age, endocrine disease, inflammation, radiation exposure and so on. For such patients, we prescribe skin lightening agents that will reduce the hyper pigmentation in the affected skin area. But this is not the case with bleaching, which, according to an article by Ophelia E Dadzie in the British Medical Journal, is the misuse of skin lightening agents to lighten your natural skin colour.
Abuse of skin lightening agents in an attempt to bleach your skin can cause a lot of problems for you. When you use such creams on your skin, it is absorbed. The chemicals in this compounds are metabolized by various organs of your body like your liver and kidney; some of these chemicals cannot be broken down, and instead are stored in these organs, leading to different problems such as:
Bluish black pigmentation of the skin
Chemicals in bleaching creams make the cells in your skin not function properly over a period of time, leading to accumulation of acids that will eventually discolour the skin.
This one pains me. We are seeing increasing cases of young patients, particularly ladies, being managed for kidney failure. After a careful history and physical examination, we have found that their kidney failure is caused by the use of bleaching cream. These chemicals accumulate and damage the kidney over time, leading to kidney failure.
Chronic skin irritation
Your skin becomes overly sensitive, and any contact with offending substances will produce a red, itchy rash, which is no uncomfortable.
This is no joke, the chemicals in these bleaching creams can accumulate in your pancreas, making your beta cells (what produces insulin that regulates your blood sugar) not function properly, and make your body cells resistant to the insulin produced, causing diabetes.
The chemicals accumulate, affecting arteries in your body and destabilizing how your body regulates fluids. All these lead to high blood pressure.
Prone to recurrent infection
They can weaken your immune system, making you an easy target for infections.
Finally, skin cancer!
Skin bleaching reduces the amount of melanin produced the body. Melanin makes us dark, and they also protect us from the damaging effects of the ultraviolet rays from the sun. In patients bleaching, the melanin they produce is not enough to protect them from the ultraviolet rays from the sun. As a result of this is the cells in their skin can be altered, and with repeated insults via ultraviolet rays, the process can lead to skin cancer, which, if not caught early, can be disastrous.
Bleaching comes from a place of insecurity, and it is up to us to tell our unique stories and redefine what beauty is. If you or anyone you know is bleaching, I’d advise you stop; being light doesn’t make you more attractive. What makes you attractive is your essence, and it comes from within. Don’t make excuses that bleaching is the only option for you. Remember, if you are delivering value and you are strategic about the quality of work you put, you cannot be ignored. Be comfortable in your skin!