Kosmetische Medizin 5-2009: 176 – 182

Hazards of skin lightening agents in West Africa


KEY WORDS: Skin lightening agents, Side effects, Africans

Skin lightening also known as skin bleaching is used to achieve a lighter complexion which is believed to be more attractive for ethnic skin. This is a common practice amongst black females especially those in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. The prevalence of complications from its use is also on the increase as shown by hospital records. Unfortunately most of the popular skin lightening agents available and affordable in sub-Saharan Africa contains hydroquinone, mercury and topical steroids.

These creams are available as beauty products and found in the open markets, supermarkets, pharmacy or cosmetic shops. Side effects from the use of these agents are both local and systemic. They range from cutaneous lesions such as exogenous onchronosis to fatal disorders such as suppression of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis. Although there are ongoing campaigns by various groups including the dermatologist, religious bodies and Food and drug officials in various countries in Africa, a significant number of individuals continue to use these agents. With the ongoing immigration from the developing to the developed countries clinicians outside sub Saharan Africa will continue to see patients with side effects resulting from the use of these agents as most of the users take enough of the products with them.