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Potential Dangers Of Using Skin-Lightening Creams
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
Michael Jackson and I both have a skin condition called vitiligo, a condition that results in loss of skin color in patches throughout one's face and body.
For years, I have heard people snicker about Michael Jackson's feeble attempts to "be more white." The truth is, Michael Jackson's skin is white because more than a decade ago, he used powerful skin-lightening medication to blend his naturally brown skin color with his white, depigmented patches.
Skin-lightening creams are heavily promoted by many dermatologists and skin care experts to even out cosmetic conditions like vitiligo, liver spots, and other superficial blemishes.
The problem with these creams is that many of them contain a substance called hydroquinone, which a variety of studies have linked to:
- Increased risk of cancer
- Increased risk of adrenal gland problems
- Increased risk of all health conditions associated with mercury poisoning
- Increased risk of developing a rare metabolic disorder called ochronosis, which can cause physical changes to the skin and tissues surrounding the eyes, ears, and joints
Citing these and other potential dangers of using creams that contain hydroquinone, this past Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. put forth a proposal to ban over-the-counter sales of skin-lightening products.
Don't expect dermatologists and the many companies who sell hundreds of different skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone to remain silent about the FDA's proposal.
According to the L.A. Times, in the United States, approximately two-thirds of all skin-lightening products are available over-the-counter without a prescription. Who knows how many millions of dollars this translates to each month for companies that produce these products?
If you're not convinced that skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone are best avoided, consider that hydroquinone has already been banned for sale in the European Union, Australia, and Japan.
Perhaps the real issue here is the lack of encouragement that our society offers to people who feel badly about their physical appearances. There never seems to be a shortage of plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and other sales people who encourage people to change or hide what they don't like about their looks.
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