Skin bleaching, lightening or whitening is the use of chemicals to lighten one’s complexion. The chemical reduces the concentration of melanin, a pigment that produces color in the skin, eyes and hair. While skin bleaching creams can be effective for their intended purpose, many are known to be toxic and are banned in some countries.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Darkening of the skin or nails beyond one’s normal color is known as hyperpigmentation. This is caused by a variety of factors but the most common include birth control pills, hormone therapy, and pregnancy. A lot of women who have recently given birth resort to skin bleaching creams, to regain their previous skin complexion.
Hyperpigmentation in pregnant women is called melasma. Melasma produces gray-brown patches in the skin, particularly in the face, neck and the line from the belly button to the pubic bone (linea nigra). Primary causes of melasma are:
- Sun Exposure - the ultraviolet rays coming from the sun stimulates melanocytes increasing melanin concentration. A small exposure to the sun can cause melasma to return after it has faded. This explains why melasma is worse in summer compared to other seasons.
- Hormonal Changes - during pregnancy, women are susceptible to constant hormonal changes. Melasma as a result of hormonal changes can also be due to birth control pills and hormone therapy.
Most of the darkening from Melasma usually fades away a little while after pregnancy.
Skin bleaching during pregnancy, safe or not?
Many bleaching creams contain Hydroquinone, which is a US FDA Category C drug. A Pregnancy Category C means animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks. Hydroquinone therapy, can be safe to use although the side effects vary from one person to another. Common side effects are mild burning, occasional dryness of the skin, stinging or redness.
For pregnant women, there is no known negative correlation between pregnancy and the use of hydroquinone. However, it is advised that before undergoing the treatment, you consult your doctor. Despite the lack of evidence, it is advisable that pregnant women stay away from Hydroquinone given its effect in animals (birth defects) and side effect of skin sensitivity which could lead to other issues. Hormonal changes can cause sensitivity or allergies to perfume, detergent and other similar products thus it is not far-fetched for bleaching to have similar effects on the body. After pregnancy some or all of the dark areas from Melasma fade away and bleaching could cause these areas to appear much lighter once the fading disappears.
While Hydroquinone is not known to pass into the breast milk, it’s much safer to avoid it until conclusive evidence presents itself, or use only under supervision of a physician.
Skin Bleaching and the Nigerian Woman
Bleaching has always been extremely popular in Nigeria and the need to be lighter seems to worsen each day. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization, 77% of Nigerian women bleach, while Togo came in second with 59% and Senegal third at 27%. The most common reason is that light-skinned women are perceived to be more beautiful, successful and are likely to find husbands easily.
Psychological effect of Skin Bleaching on children
The society contributes immensely to this addiction with its emphasis and value on appearance. Many nigerian women are obsessed with a foreign definition of beauty – proliferation of expensive weaves anyone? Obsessing about appearances can have a negative impact on children, however.
Its a good thing for parents to care about their looks and for children to be aware of maintaining an appealing appearance. When it is overdone to the point of extremely modifying your natural appearance, it can negatively impact a child’s self-esteem by impressing a need to conform to society’s expectation of beauty. As a result, children who do not naturally meet these misconstrued beauty standards become really anxious and insecure about their appearance and are constantly looking for opportunities to change it even at the expense of their health.