In a report recently released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria has the highest percentage of users of skin bleaching . The report, which examines the dangers of mercury in cream lightening soaps and creams, revealed that over 77 percent of Nigerians use these products on a regular basis. This high figure is a cause for concern; skin lightening products contain mercury which has many adverse effects including skin irritations, pain, kidney damage and peripheral neuropathy.
According to Carolyn Vickers, WHO Chemical Safety Personnel, “mercury in soaps and creams eventually enters waste water and then enters the food chain as highly toxic methyl mercury. Pregnant women who consume fish containing methylmercury transfer the mercury to their foetuses that can later result in neurological deficits in children.”
From creams to cosmetics, WHO has warned against the use of all skin lightening products. The number of women using these products is increasing by the day as they pursue what is considered to be ‘fair-skinned beauty’ as defined by international magazines and the media and large. This trend “can be seen as perpetuating the colonial belief that being lighter is better”, says Ehowhow.com. The mercury in skin lightening products allows users to achieve a lighter skin tone by inhibiting the formation of melanin. What they fail to realize is that they are doing more harm than good to their skin.
Mercury has been banned in many countries. In the United States and the EU, the use of mercury compounds in cosmetics is prohibited by law.
While manufacturers have become creative in concealing the presence of mercury in their products, the WHO report provides tips on how to detect products that might be harmful. “The amount or concentration of mercury in a product may be labeled on the packaging or in the ingredient list. Names to look for include mercury, Hg, mercuric iodide, mercurous chloride, ammoniated mercury, amide chloride of mercury, quicksilver, cinnabaris, hydrargyri oxydum rubrum (mercury oxide) and mercury iodide”, the report says.
Skin lightening products are manufactured in countries like China, Mexico, Lebanon and the Dominican Republic and are commonly used in African and Asian nations. They come in soaps and creams which are generally applied to the skin overnight and left to dry. Those with very high levels of mercury contamination have a grey or cream coloured look. Although the product manuals usually contain a warning, “most companies selling products that contain mercury do not always list it as an ingredient”.
Source: The Punch