Recent reports suggest Clarins of US is going to focus on Asian consumers for its skin whitening cream. This might perhaps be due to lack of awareness among consumers in Asia of the potentially serious harm whitening creams can cause to their skin.
Most skin whitening creams contain hydroquinone that reduces melanin production in skin. In some mainstream products it is used to help reduce the appearance of various types of hyperpigmentation problems like sun spots, age spots and acne markings.
With its increasing marketing campaigns, questions are being raised about its safety; several countries have banned hydroquinone and products containing it from being sold over the counter.
Many studies on skin whitening creams have shown that consistent and widespread use of hydroquinone can result in some pretty serious skin problems, as well as more serious health problems. One researcher found that whilst hydroquinone will initially lighten the skin as it is meant to, over time and with prolonged use an oxidation process can start to take place – due to a reaction between the chemicals and sunlight. This can actually result in the skin then becoming darker; leading a person to use even more hydroquinone based products to counter the side effects.
Another serious aspect emerged over time the skin began to appear weaker and thus, the hydroquinone was able to go into the bloodstream more readily, thereby reaching the organs (such as the liver and kidneys) easily.
One study by TJ Kooyers and W. Westerhof on “Toxicology and health risks of hydroquinone in skin lightening” stated “that possible long-term effects like carcinogenesis may be expected.”
US FDA considers hydroquinone a potentially dangerous substance, though many dermatologists feel that the ingredient is safe in small amounts when not used for the purpose of bleaching the skin all over the face, neck and body. EU has banned hydroquinone for over the counter sales.
Due to the health risks, many companies have turned to other ingredients, like arbutin with kojic acid, in place of hydroquinone. There are no reliable studies so far on the safety of these, especially arbutin that is a derivative of hydroquinone. In the aisles of ethnic beauty supply stores on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, dozens of skin lighteners are for sale, most manufactured abroad. Prescription creams with clobetasol propionate were available recently for as little as $3.99.
Echoing health concerns, New York Times article had also highlighted the fact that dermatologists nationwide were noticing side effects from the frequent use of skin whitening creams like Fair & White and other stuff sold by beauty shops and online sites.
Due to attractive profit margins on such products, many unscrupulous suppliers, especially through online sites, have started selling counterfeit versions with undisclosed ingredients – such counterfeit versions have also turned up in stores.
According to Dr. Erin Gilbert, chief dermatology resident at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, she or her colleagues saw a case of severe side effects from skin-lightening creams at least once a week.
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said it was wrong to assume that skin-lightening was a cultural anachronism or an effort to negate one’s racial heritage. “In fact, it’s a growing practice and one that has been stimulated by the companies that produce these products,” she said. “Their advertisements connect happiness and success and romance with being lighter skinned.”
Dr. Glenn, former president of the American Sociological Association emphasized that “sociological studies have shown among African-Americans and also Latinos, there’s a clear connection between skin color and socioeconomic status. It’s not some fantasy. There is prejudice against dark-skinned people, especially women in the so-called marriage market.”