Skin lighteners—used by up to 70% of women in parts of Africa—are damaging. In fact, the WHO has banned the active ingredients of skin lighteners—a hydroquinone and mercury—from being used in any unregulated skin products.
But Lester M. Davids, a University of Cape Town biology professor, reports finding skin lighteners available in pharmacies and supermarkets in the Johannesburg area, despite laws restricting the use of hydroquinone.
“Unregulated products have significantly higher quantities of hydroquinone and mercury than those recommended by dermatologists,” he writes. “Using them could lead to liver and kidney failure or hyperpigmentation. There is also a risk of skin cancer . . . .”
Thanks for the tip, Barbara Benham!
Letter to the Editor
I would like to add that governments have a legal obligation under international human rights law to ensure that citizens are fully informed of the health risks of skin lighteners, as part of their obligation to ensure that citizens have access to the information they need to protect their own health and the health of others. Please see HIFA 2015.
Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh MB, BS, DCH, DRCOG