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Are You A Bleacher?

Skin lightening (bleaching) cosmetics and toiletries are widely used in most African countries. The active ingredients in these cosmetic products are hydroquinone, mercury and corticosteroids. 


Several additives (conconctions) are used to enhance the bleaching effect. Since these products are used for long duration, on a large body surface area, and under hot humid conditions, percutaneous absorption is enhanced.

Corticosteroids: Side Effects and Adverse Reactions  The potent effect of corticosteroids can result in serious side effects which mimic Cushing’s disease, a malfunction of the adrenal glands resulting in an overproduction of cortisol. 

The list of potential side effects is long and includes:
increased appetite and weight gain, deposits of fat in chest, face, upper back, and stomach water and salt retention leading to swelling and edema
high blood pressure, diabetes, black and blue marks, slowed healing of wounds, osteoporosis, cataracts, acne, muscle weakness, thinning of the skin, increased susceptibility to infection, stomach ulcers, increased sweating, mood swings, psychological problems such as depression
adrenal suppression.

Hydroquinone Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
In 2001 hydroquinone was banned as an ingredient in cosmetics after it was shown to cause leukemia in mice and other animals. The mechanism of permanent whitening with hydroquinone is known for centuries. In 500 B.C. in Iran, farmers and civil workers used pure hydroquinone to keep their skin white and soft. Hydroquinone whitens skin by killing skin pigment cells. It is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, meaning that it prevents skin from making the substance giving skin its colour.

The mechanism of permanent whitening with hydroquinone is known for centuries. In 500 B.C. in Iran, farmers and civil workers used pure hydroquinone to keep their skin white and soft. Hydroquinone whitens skin by killing skin pigment cells. It is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, meaning that it prevents skin from making the substance giving skin its colour.


Side Effects
Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); blistering; blue-black darkening of the skin; excessive redness, stinging, or irritation.

Mercury Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
Some of the mental and physical effects of chronic exposure to mercury are known to us all, immortalised in Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Mercury salts were used historically in the manufacture of felt hats and absorption of these compounds through the skin gave rise to body burdens sufficient to cause the symptoms of madness among this profession. Likewise, the use of mercury salts in the 19th Century for the treatment of syphilis gave rise to severe side effects and many deaths.

Symptoms Characteristic of Low-Dose Mercury Exposure
For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother’s consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb. 

In addition to the subtle impairments noted above, symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include, impairment of the peripheral vision;
disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth), lack of coordination of movements,
impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness,
tremors, emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness), insomnia, neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching), headaches, disturbances in sensations, changes in nerve responses.

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