Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
SKIN bleaching is an age-old practice which seems not to be going away despite its life-threatening side effects.
Many women have had their facial skins scarred for life, and without knowing, some have died of health complications arising from chronic use of skin lightening creams and soaps.
The blue-black scars caused by mercury or hydroquinone in skin bleaching formulations are quite distinct, and users of these cosmetics can be identified by their disfigurements.
Other skin bleachers present an unnatural reddish colour, which makes them look pale and unusual. The scarring of the skin is difficult to treat, so once you trade on this path, there is no cure if you can’t afford surgical peeling, which doesn’t come cheap.
Apparently, most women with damaged skin regret their actions, and when you stare at them, they tend to feel uneasy.
Obviously if given a second chance, they would treasure their dark complexion and do nothing to change it.
However, many people do not seem to learn from the bad experience of others.
Why then do we have more people changing their dark completion to a lighter tone?
It seems skin bleaching is triggered by an inferiority complex by people who feel beauty lies in a pale complexion.
Some women, who believe that men are more attracted to women with a light skin colour, argue that coloured women appear to be more ‘marketable’ than those with a darker skin.
Someone told me that coloured women normally find it easy to find men to marry them, even after a divorce, one stands a better chance of remarrying.
This is someone who has a fair skin shade but is enhancing it with skin lightening products to enhance her beauty because she feels men are crazy about women with a lighter pigmentation.
She claims that some men boast when their new catch has a light complexion and would say something like nina gwira coloured manje (I’m now dating a coloured woman).
But do men agree that light-skinned women tend to turn heads more than those with a dark natural colouring?
A male friend of mine says it’s a fallacy to think that way. He says to a man, beauty has got nothing to do with the skin tone but rather the way one is crafted whether dark or light.
‘I don’t know why women tend to think that beauty is about one’s colour. To me, skin bleaching is a sign of insecurity with oneself,’ one of the men I was chatting with said.
He shared that marital beauty is not only skewed towards a woman’s looks, but rather her character is a major factor for a man when it comes to making that critical decision.
My friend also said a dark and beautiful woman is not inferior to one with a lighter skin tone. He says a dark skin tone does not conceal a woman’s beauty, but rather a bad character does.
Well, I agree – beauty has got nothing to do with one’s skin colour. Probably women who prefer a fair skin tone are prompted by their own preferences and insecurities, not that ‘coloured women’ stand a better chance of meeting their dream man.
There is no empirical evidence to prove that light-skinned women stand a better chance of being spotted by Mr Right than darker ones.
I guess we have numerous beautiful women with a dark skin pigment who have met their match and are happily married.
In an attempt to enhance beauty, women who use skin bleaching creams end up scarring their faces and exposing themselves to life-threatening diseases.
Skin lightening creams and soaps contain chemicals such as mercury, hydroquinone and steroids which are harmful to health.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mercury is a common ingredient found in skin lightening creams and soaps, masked as ‘antiseptic soap’ or ‘whitening soaps’. It says mercury salts inhibit the formation of melanin (a substance responsible for colouring the skin and hair), resulting in a lighter skin tone.
The WHO study found that skin bleaching products are commonly used among dark-skinned populations in Africa and Asia and a smaller population in Europe and North America.
In Africa, they are mainly used on a regular basis in Nigeria (77%), Togo (59%), South Africa (35%), Senegal (27%) and 25 % in Mali. Zambia may not rank highly on this list, but skin bleaching is a notable problem in our country.
The distribution of mercury containing beauty products has been banned in the European Union and numerous African nations because of their health hazards, the WHO report says.
In the EU, mercury and mercury compounds are not allowed as ingredients in cosmetics, such as soaps, lotions, shampoos and skin bleaching products.
In the United States, Canada and the Philippines, mercury compounds in cosmetics shouldn’t exceed the prescribed legal limit.
According to the WHO study, the main side effect of mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage. Other possible health effects are skin rashes, skin discoloration, scarring, reduction in the body’s resistance to bacteria and skin diseases, including skin cancer due to damaging of the skin by ultraviolet rays. Since skin lightening creams inhibits melanin production, the skin becomes vulnerable to dangerous sun rays.
Other harmful effects cited by Dr SEA Initiative in a paper titled “Dangers of skin lightening” are liver diseases, hormonal imbalance (resulting in infertility), diabetes, headaches, fatigue and depression.
Further, experts say that mercury is normally absorbed by the body and its traces could be found in breast milk and other body fluids. In other cases, it can impede brain development in unborn or young children.
Some experts recommend that women must be made aware of harmful effects of cosmetics containing harmful chemicals such as mercury, hydroquinone and steroids.
Some studies recommend awareness raising on alternative skin lightening products that do not contain mercury and other hazardous substances.
However, others argue that skin lightening cosmetics are generally bad –if they don’t contain mercury, they are likely to have other harmful ingredients.
Besides, some of the manufacturers of skin lightening cosmetics do not declare some harmful ingredients on the product.
Perhaps if women are made aware of serious health hazards, besides skin scarring, they could be dissuaded from skin bleaching.
Apparently the scarring of skin or redness of skin are well-known side effects of skin bleaching, and apparently most women are either not worried of these or have found preventive measures.
Knowing that long-term exposure to skin lightening formulations can also cause cancer, kidney damage and diabetes, among other life-threatening conditions, could make people think twice before using these cosmetics.
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