MOTUNRAYO JOEL, in this concluding part of a two-part series, writes about women who have stopped bleaching their skin because of the side effects arising from such practice and the alternatives to bleaching for those who would like to lighten their skin
Vivian Eleta, 23, is a fair-skinned petty trader with a love for beautiful things. Five years ago, Eleta hit on an idea to look even more beautiful for her husband. She opted to lighten her skin with bleaching creams.
“I bleached in order to look good for my husband. When I first started bleaching my skin used to look nice. But after a year or two, I noticed changes in my body: some parts of my legs were fair and other parts looked really dark,” she said.
By this time Eleta had formed the habit of spending a significant amount of the proceeds from her trade on bleaching creams every month.
“These changes got me really worried, especially when people began to stare at me and my husband also began to complain. Then, I also noticed that whenever I injured myself, the wound took a longer time to heal. Later I learnt that it was the fragility of my skin that prevented the wounds on my body from healing fast,” she said.
Although Eleta has since stopped using bleaching creams, the spots on her body remain, serving as constant reminders of her futile quest to be more beautiful.
Mercy Omowale’s experience is also similar to that of Eleta. Omowale started using bleaching creams two years ago. Nowadays, she is quick to grumble about the challenges of living with the side effects of bleaching creams.
“The sun is my problem. It is a big challenge. Anytime I walk in the sun it would be like my skin is burning. I really want to stop bleaching, but I don’t want my skin to turn dark too. I like my fair skin,” she said, with resignation.
Health experts say complications from skin bleaching are not only unhealthy for the sufferer, but may also be offensive to those around them. A 2008 study by the International Society of Dermatology published in thegrio.com, revealed that people who bleached their skin over a prolonged period of time developed a body odour that smelt like rotten fish. The condition is called the “fish odour syndrome.” Scientists say this syndrome is caused by the excretion of a chemical called trimethylamine in the sweat, saliva, urine and vaginal secretions.
However, an offensive odour is not the only headache that bleachers have to cope with. A Consultant Physician/Dermatologist Skin Surgeon, Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Michael Akolawole, said people who bleached for several years would usually develop a condition called exogenous ochronosis. The symptoms of exogenous ochronosis include skin darkening, blue and grayish hyperpigmentation and bumps on skin.
Exogeneous ochronosis is a term that Bunmi Adeoye, who is in her late 30s, knows very well. She said people assumed she is in her late 40s, because of her bleached skin.
She said, “(Some years after I started bleaching) My skin, all of a sudden, began to turn pale and lose its elasticity. I also developed a dark pigmentation around my eyes and on my forehead. When I went to the hospital, my doctor called the condition ochronosis.
“I am quite pained anytime I look at my face and skin. Despite the fact that I have stopped using bleaching creams, I cannot reverse my skin to the way it was, prior to my bleaching.”
Kayode Lawal, the chairman of one of the popular markets on Lagos mainland, does not know the name of the condition that has made him sun shy for many years. Lawal bleaches his skin. At the market, unlike other traders, Kayode does not stay in his shop. Rather, he supervises his ‘boys’ from a salon close to the market. He seats in the airy salon from morning till evening for fear that sunlight or heat would cause further damage to his skin.
Lawal refused to speak with our correspondent but a fellow trader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “My Oga used to be so fair; we all knew he was bleaching. But after some time, he stopped bleaching when his skin began to darken. We knew he had stopped bleaching because his skin was no longer as fair as it was when he initially started.
“He now has dark patches on his cheeks. His skin also looks red, I see no reason why men should be bleeching their skin. I feel he looked much better before he started bleeching,” she said.
Mrs. Shakiratu Usman, a petty trader is also battling with exogenous ochronosis. Once upon a time, in her youthful days, she said she used to use bleaching creams.
According to her, ever since she developed exogenous ochronosis, she has stopped bleaching.
Similarly, a business lady, who identified herself as Mrs. Dele, told our correspondent that she had spend a lot of money trying to get rid of ochronosis lesions on her face.
“Many years ago, I used a particular bleaching cream which triggered the dark patches around my eyes. Ever since then, I tried so many products to get rid of the dark patches but my efforts have been to no avail, ’’ she said.
Dr. Akolawole said exogenous ochronosis is caused by the prolonged use of certain kinds of skin lightening lotions and creams.
He said EO is a rare condition which is ‘cosmetically disfiguring and psychologically debilitating,’ and deserves early diagnosis and interruption of the causative drug in adequate time.
The consultant added that the best “treatment” for exogenous ochronosis is for the user to put an immediate end to the use of bleaching creams.
He said, “Avoiding the causative agent is the first step to be taken and has been proven to be beneficial, although the results are seen only a few years after the interruption of the treatment.
“A late or erroneous diagnosis may lead the patient to continuous drug application, often times in greater quantity on the affected areas, in an attempt to clear the new spots.”
Besides exogenous ochronosis, there are several other harmful side effects of skin bleaching. Akolawole said many skin bleaching creams circulating in the market contain not only hydroquinone and mercury, but also steroids.
According to Akolawole, steroids could cause diabetes, hypertension and other ailments.
He said, “Many skin lightening creams also contain steroids in doses up to 1,000 times higher than in creams used to treat eczema and other skin conditions. Steroid use can cause all sorts of complications such as thinning of the skin, acne, red stretch marks and discolouration.
Kemi Akindele, a sales representative who works at Iponri market, bleaches heavily and would like to stop.
She said, “People often draw my attention to the red patches on my face, especially around my eyes. I developed the patches few months ago. When I initially started bleaching my skin, I did not know that I should avoid sun. In the afternoons, I used to walk up and down, trying to do one thing or the other.
“Now I run away from the sun. The burns on my face could be quite painful sometimes. I’m just managing myself; I don’t know what else to do. The person treating me said my face would heal in a short while.”
Uduak Effiong, 30, also suffers from skin discolouration. She told this correspondent that she has been bleaching her skin for more than seven years.
“A friend who is a doctor said it’s the long years of bleaching that is making me age fast. I never knew that. And youthful look is my selling point, I can’t afford to age fast,” she said.
Another lady, Destiny Oputu, claimed to have been bleaching her skin for more than four years, but she said she is on the verge of stopping because of her uneven skin discolouration.
Bleaching for men
In the first part of this report, some men who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH had said they bleached so women could find them attractive. Women also told our correspondent that they bleach to be more attractive to their men. An undergraduate, 21-year-old Bunmi Oduyemi, said the only reason she bleached was because her boyfriend asked her to do so.
“I wasn’t as fair as I am now; until some months ago. My boyfriend said he liked light-skinned ladies, which was why I started using bleaching creams to lighten my skin. Moreover, I like myself this way, I think I’m prettier,” she said.
Another student, who simply identified as Ronke, acknowledged that some women bleach because of men.
“I’m yet to meet a man who doesn’t like light-skinned ladies. Every man wants his lady to be fair in complexion. Why do you think male celebrities marry light-skinned ladies? It is because light-skinned ladies are more beautiful. Most men will give their right arm to date and marry a light skinned girl.”
Ronke further said she believed that light-skinned girls attracted more suitors in the past and their bride price were quite exorbitant.
“It is the same thing nowadays. Light-skinned women are always the centre of attraction and most men who date them believe that marrying light-skinned girl will do wonders for their egos,” she added.
Safe toning remedies
Meanwhile, a consultant dermatologist, Chinwe Onyekonwu, said rather than putting one’s life in danger just to lighten one’s skin, there were safe remedies to tone and protect one’s skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
She said, “A lot of products have been discovered to have some skin lightening effects. However, their effects are not as dramatic as that obtained from the use of corticosteroids and hydroquinone. These products include but are not limited to Arbutin, Kojic Acid, Niacinamide, Ascorbic Acid, Bearberry extract, Lemon juice, Glabridin(found in licorice extract), Lactic acid, Para amino benzoic acid(PABA) and a host of others.”
Onyekonwu added, “Sun screen lotions should also form a regular part of skin care, not only do they give some protection from the deleterious effects of the sun such as pigmentation and premature aging of the skin but they are also important when using skin lightening agents. It is also important to note that although these skin lightening agents mentioned above are natural, they may also cause allergic reactions in those predisposed to such.”
According to Akolawole, exfoliation is a good way to rejuvenate one’s skin, because it reduces fine lines on the skin, helps in boosting the blood circulation and removes toxins from the blood.
“It prepares the skin to better absorb all the benefits of a moisturiser and allows a longer and more even tan. It is perhaps one of the easiest ways of attaining healthy skin. Also, take a multivitamin every day to help internally rejuvenate your skin. Vitamins are rich in antioxidants that can help keep your skin smooth and supple while protecting it from the effects of environmental pollutants.”
“I also advise people to always use sun protection on a daily basis to protect themselves from damaging UV rays. But if you want to go the extra mile to delay the signs of aging, try using herbs for an extra boost of antioxidants. These work to neutralise free radicals from the sun and from other sources, such as pollution, before they can cause damage leading to sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles,” he said.
For those who can afford the cost, Akolawole said the use of chemical peels is another good means of rejuvenating one’s skin.
“Chemical peels are one of the most popular cosmetic procedures that patients avail themselves of today. Chemical peels can give your skin a healthy, refreshed look, or can be aggressive, taking years off your appearance,” he said.
For persons who can’t afford chemical peels, Akolawole advised them to invest in good bathing gels rather than using bar soaps.
He said, “Bar soaps are bad for the skin because they take good nutrients off the skin. I always advise people to use bathing gels. There are many affordable ones in the market.”