Over-the-counter skin-lightening creams are “like paint stripper,” according to a new public health alert.
These so-called beauty products increase the risk of cancer and organ damage — and “should be avoided at all costs,” the UK’s Local Government Association reported.
Many of the creams are already prohibited in England and Wales, but recent law enforcement efforts have revealed that skin-whiteners are still being sold there and around the world, the LGA found.
Experts are sounding the alarm on the banned ingredient hydroquinone — the “biological equivalent” of paint thinner, they wrote. Some products also contain mercury, a known toxin linked to bacterial and fungal infections, liver damage, anxiety, depression and psychosis, according to the World Health Organization.
“Hydroquinone can remove the top layer of skin, increasing the risk of skin cancer and cause fatal liver and kidney damage,” the LGA found. “Mercury can cause similar life-threatening health problems.”
Approved, non-harmful skin-whitening products are more expensive than their banned counterparts — and dangerous ingredients aren’t stopping consumers from seeking cheaper brands from bootleg dealers and even commercial cosmetics stores. Shop owners outside London have been arrested and fined for selling products containing hydroquinone, according to the LGA report. Companies caught selling outlawed products could be fined up to $24,500 (about 20,000 pounds), and executives might face up to a year of jail time.
Despite campaigns for body positivity and inclusion, global sales for skin-whiteners are on the rise, and estimated to reach $31.2 billion by 2024, according to Global Industry Analysts. Bleaching creams are most popular in regions where the culture tends to uphold lighter skin, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but also common in the US.
Apart from toxic additives, many critics have campaigned against the use of skin-whiteners as inherently racist and colorist.
Just last week, two Japanese comedians joked that Haitian-Japanese tennis champ Naomi Osaka, 21, was “too sunburned” and should bleach her skin, reported the Asahi Shimbun.
The comedy duo, called A Masso, have since apologized for “inappropriate, hurtful remarks.” Osaka, meanwhile, took to Twitter in response.
” ‘Too sunburned’ lol that’s wild. Little did they know, with Shiseido anessa perfect uv sunscreen I never get sunburned 😊😊😊,” the Shiseido brand ambassador wrote.