“As a practicing dermatologist I have encountered several patients who have engaged in skin bleaching,” she says. “I have observed this practice typically in adults with darker skin types. Although some individuals will ask directly for agents to lighten their normal skin colour, this is not frequent. I often find that people do not confess to this practice and it only becomes apparent when they present me with a problem associated with the abuse of depigmenting agents.
“I have treated black patients who have presented with acne of the face, and often, after investigation, I find that the acne started after abuse of skin lightening agents containing corticosteroids.”
However, David Furst, managing director of Skinlight Cosmetics Ltd – which supplies a range of skincare products, including skin lightening cream – says that, used properly, skin lightening products can have benefits.
“Our products are of a very high quality and are therefore very effective but also very safe,” he says. “There are many different reasons why our customers purchase skin lightening products, but the majority of our customers do appear to use these products to fade dark marks, age spots and blemishes, to achieve a clear and even skin tone.
“There are also some customers that just want to achieve an overall lighter skin tone gradually and safely by using our products. The skin lightening treatments that we sell are used by a diverse mix of ethnic groups, including white, Asian and black.”
Though some skin lightening products may well be safe, clinical psychologist Linda Papadopoulos says that incorrect use of off-the-counter products can have psychological effects on the user.
“One’s skin tone is very much associated with one’s race and one’s identity, and sadly, we live in a culture where there’s a very rigid view of beauty that is aspired to,” she says. “In some cultures, it still is very much valued to have lighter skin. In the Western world, so much money is spent on tanning products, but in the East, even more is spent on skin lightening products, as light skin is seen as the epitome of beauty.
“But some of those types of products are very dangerous. And any dramatic change to your appearance – which can happen if those types of products aren’t used properly – can have long-term psychological effects on the individual.”