How many of us believe that fairness is the ultimate expression of beauty? Today, fairness has become trendy so much so that fairness creams have become priorities. Beneath the urge to use life threatening cosmetics is the societal conception that dark skin is unacceptable. The cosmetic industry plays on this societal thinking and has since longtime advertised the ‘efficacy’ of fairness creams, thus alluring the public who are dissatisfied with their skin tone. Daily Mirror spoke to Consultant dermatologist, Dr. Nayani Madarasingha on the harmful effects of skin whitening creams, injections which apparently whiten the skin and the importance of using an appropriate sunscreen to protect oneself from the scorching sun. “What we need to maintain is blemish free clear skin and not fair skin. Fairness given by fairness creams is temporary. Once you stop applying it the colour comes back as you have been born with it,” said Dr. Madarasinghe.
“We live in a tropical country. Naturally we are exposed to sunlight. Long-term exposure to sunlight causes effects of ageing such as wrinkles and rough skin. 80% of premature aging is caused by sun damage. Exposure to sun can cause skin cancers. But we are not so prone to sun- related skin cancers as in other countries where fair people live, because we are protected by the melanin in our skin,” she said.
She added that attempting to remove melanin artificially causes many harmful effects. “Ageing and skin cancers are the main health effects. In certain salons, products are made to give fairness with no due care to its ingredients. There is a drug called steroid, prescribed for skin diseases, which makes the skin fair as a side effect. Some use this drug alongside other ingredients to make fairness creams. This can cause the thinning of skin, redness, over whitening of the skin and pimples. Heavy metals such as mercury can cause skin cancers.” She noted that pigmentary diseases, genetics, hormonal imbalance, weight gain, certain cosmetics and sun exposure made one dark in appearance. “You have to treat the root causes. If you get darker because of gaining weight, you have to reduce your weight instead of applying fairness cream. Even internal cancers can cause skin darkening. Therefore you need to meet a skin specialist who could identify the root cause and treat it accordingly,” she said. Referring to the problems related to pigmentation she said, “Certain pigmentary problems are aggravated by sun exposure. There are certain skin conditions where you get black patches or darkening of the face. In these cases there are skin whitening agents but they have to be taken under the supervision of a specialist.” “Sometimes, when I prescribe such a cream to be taken for two months after which the patient is supposed to meet me, the patient takes it for 6 months and then decides to come back to follow it up. This is wrong. You can’t use a cream that has been prescribed for a friend either,” she added, asserting that over the counter fairness creams were not safe.
GLUTATHIONE INJECTIONS ARE NOT SAFE
She further said injections which supposedly made people fair were not safe as their long-term efficacy and safety had not been proven scientifically. “The injection called glutathione is not registered as a safe drug in Sri Lanka. No board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon will prescribe this. However there is a racket going on. Long-term effects of injecting this drug are not known. Certain countries have banned this injection as well.”
Emphasizing the importance of sun protection Dr. Madarasinghe said fairness could be achieved to a certain extent by applying a sunscreen. “You can improve the complexion through sunscreen. It delays ageing. Certain sunscreens are not cosmetically appealing as they tend to be oily. You need to use different sunscreens and use one that is appropriate to your skin. You need to apply a thick layer of sunscreen half an hour before going out in the sun. It has to be reapplied every three to four hours.