This morning as I was going through my usual routines I came across something on Facebook that I have been trying to write about -bleaching.
Skin bleaching or skin whitening has been there with us since ages. Some people state that this begun back in the Elizabethan times where women and men strive to achieve a pale white skin complexion. This was considered to be a sign of beauty and also of social standing.
In fact, one renowned professor of anthropology at Peen State University stated that
“In South Africa, like in the U.S. in the slavery and post-slavery eras, the possession of dark skin was associated with lower social status, since social status was legislated by color,”
prof. Nina Jablonski
She is the the author of the book “Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color.”
and she also stated in the book that;
“If you were a ‘black’ or a ‘bantu’ and you had light skin, you might be able to pass as a ‘colored’ and be accorded somewhat more privileges and the ability to move somewhat more freely.
This might have been the greatest contributor to the widespread nature of this dangerous act of trying so hard to change the skin color which obviously leads to proliferation of skin diseases including melanomas.
world health organisation states that Nigeria constitutes the highest rate when it comes to bleaching in the entire world with 77% of the population estimated to be using skin lightening products on regular bases.
South Africa is also high on this rating with researchers believing that it came as result of the apartheid movement.
The fact is that, now bleaching of the skin is on the increase in every country in Africa even though no one goes around beating up people with black skins. So unless probably the history have led to some kind of mental conditioning, I don’t see how I could relate this to apartheid movement.
In the past, people who could afford to apply Ceruse – a paste made from vinegar and white lead – to their face, neck and chest did get some kind of light skin which made them appear more accepted or somewhat more attractive. This led to the proliferation of these products and today there is no corner of the world that one can’t find a skin bleaching product.
How does skin lightening products work?
The basic principle of almost all skin lightening products is to inhibit the action of the enzyme tyrosinase which is responsible for oxidizing the amino acid tyrosine in the process of forming a compound referred to as melanin.
Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for our skin color and it is produced in a group of specialized cells in the skin known as melanocytes. The good thing is that almost every human have pretty much equal number of melanocytes so the level of melanin therefore only depends on the amount produced by these cells which are affected by several factors including genetic makeup, exposure to UV light(found in sun rays), the size of these melanocytes and others.
According to the Wikipedia page on melanin,
There are three basic types of melanin: eumelanin, pheomelanin, and neuromelanin. The most common type is eumelanin, of which there are two types—brown eumelanin and black eumelanin. Pheomelanin is a cysteine that contains red polymer of benzothiazine units largely responsible for red hair, among other pigmentation. Neuromelanin is found in the brain, though its function remains obscure.
So why is bleaching dangerous to the skin?
Melanin is a natural pigment in our skin that protects us against the harmful effects of UV light found in the sun. This is the reason why it is the same UV light that initiates its production in a process known as melanogenises. The intelligence of nature here is commendable as the amount of UV light you are exposed to does increases your melanin production in efforts to protect you against lots of problems.
It is true that when this happens, your skin do get darker but that is a good thing for you. Now if you decide to take away this special ability of your skin it leaves you defenseless against UV light. Melanin has the potential to dissipate 99.9% of absorbed UV light which makes it a high yield light absorbent.
There are three types of UV rays which include UVA, UVB and UVC.
- UVA rays particularly increases aging of skin cells but also have the potential to damage DNA which can lead to formation of cancers in a process known as carcinogensis. This can also cause mutation to cells in a process known as mutagenesis.
- UVB rays can damage skin DNA directly because they posses slightly higher energy than UVA rays. This is what is mostly responsible for sunburn effect on the skin. These rays are also thought to cause many skin cancers.
- UVC rays Have more energy than all the others but the good thing is that it does not permeate the ozone layer into our atmosphere which means we are not exposed to it dangerous effects.
It is for this dangerous effects of the UV light that nature has placed melanin in us to protect us. You have no idea when your body needs more or less melanin but your melanocytes knows. So when you decide that you don’t like the color that melanin gives your skin, you can apply pomade to change it but do remember that you are also excusing the protection of this pigment and you become more exposed to all kinds of diseases.
This aging is caused by UVA rays after the production of melanin was inhibited by the bleaching agents this lady used. You can also see the blackening left by dead decaying cells.
There are so many harmful effects of skin bleaching that I could present in picture s but for its gross nature I would advise you check it out on google and see for yourself what this is doing to people in the long run.
There are several agents used in skin whitening products which present different effects other than those we often see and this include hydroquinone, mercury and steroids.
Hydroquinone is a chemical compound used in the black and white film processing and also used in rubber manufacturing industry. This compound is toxic to human cells but are used in bleaching creams because of its ability to slow down the production of tyrosinase which reduces the extent of production of melanin.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is readily absorbed into the body but not easily removed. Mercury is dangerous not only for its initial side effects of skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring but also for the fact that long term exposure to mercury can have more serious health consequences. Mercury poisoning is a huge public health concern and though its use have been ban by FDAs of many countries, some creams still have them and you must be very careful.
The side effects of steroids can be fatal. Steroids are produced in our bodies but under strict supervision from our body cells. Steroids when used indiscriminately will reduce the level of melanocytes in you because of its ability to slow down cell regeneration. This leads to an immediate lightening of the skin but it also reduces your body natural defense against infections and you become more susceptible to all kinds of skin infections.
Steroids also can affect your hormonal balance which has far reaching consequences which could even interfere with ovulation and your ability to conceive or maintain pregnancy.
Will you rather trade your health to please people? Meanwhile people hardly even get pleased by bleached people because most often than not, you may sting from the dead decaying cells on your skin. Your skin becomes lighter and easy to bruise.
In the long run you will wish to hide under your own skin when the effects of your short term desire to look fair manifests.
Instead of changing your color to match what you think people would like, I think it is better to work on yourself esteem. God created you uniquely for a reason and if you discover this reason you don’t have to look in ways to please anyone. The key rests in continuous self development and self knowledge. When you do not know yourself that is when you are compelled to change your externals but that does not change anything except make you feel worse.