An important message to all women of African Descent: Dear sisters, please! please! please! Learn to love the beautiful skin you’re in; dark, brown, light. Just own it! There’s nothing wrong in wanting to look your radiant best but use healthy and sustainable products or methods.
There is a big difference between seeking a glowing, healthy and even-toned skin and an unhealthy fixation on becoming light-skinned by using harmful skin products/chemicals. The former comes from a place of ‘wholeness’ while the often latter stems from a deep-seated sense of ‘insecurity’ and ‘unworthiness’.
“Take good care of your skin, for it houses your body, and your body is the only true home you’ll ever reside in. For as long as you are alive, it is the home that you can never run away from.”
-Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido, Co-Founder, Whole Woman Network
There was a recent study done at the University of Cape town that suggests 1 in 3 women in South Africa bleaches her skin. Unconfirmed reports from the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), also suggests that 77% of Nigerian women bleach their skin! There are similar stories in Ghana, Liberia, Senegal etc. All across Africa and even Asia, the habit of skin-bleaching is becoming more and more prevalent.
Look around you and the signs are everywhere. You probably know a friend, aunty, sister, neighbour, colleague who is fixated on skin-bleaching.
For women of African descent, the scourge of skin bleaching is made worse because most women (and even men!) use creams made with the potent bleaching agent: Hydroquinone.
Some important facts about Hydroquinone:
1. Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, which is important in skin pigment (melanin) development. It is important to be aware that Melanin actually provides protection against UV radiation. It is more effective than any sunscreen known to man. It diffuses UV radiation and turns it into harmless heat.
2. Combining Hydroquinone with skin products that contain benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or other peroxides, (found in most acne treatment) is harmful to the skin. This causes temporary staining of the skin. Also hydroquinone should not be used with any of the new resorcinol-based skin lightening treatments such as Clinique dark spot corrector.
3. 4% and above hydroquinone concentration is generally considered by most dermatologists to be one of the most effective skin-lightening and age spot-brightening agents. Overall, it is considered to be safer for Caucasians and light-skinned asians BUT not as safe for darker-skinned people (Africans).
Are you a woman of African Descent? Here are 10 Reasons why Hydroquinone is bad for your skin:
1. It is harmful to your health! Although many European and American researchers argue that hydroquinone has NOT been directly linked to Cancer in humans only to mice. However, Hydroquinone clearly has a proven serious side-effect on humans as it causes pigmentation of the eye and permanent corneal damage (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venearology, 2006). This only occurs when the eye is directly exposed to hydroquinone (So if you are still bent on using hydroquinone based products, avoid direct contact with the eyes).
2. It causes Ochronosis: For lighter-skinned women of colour (Indians, Chinese, Filipinos etc), dermatologists often recommend the use of hydroquinone in 3 to 4 months cycles and then alternated with less harmful lightening products. However, in darker skinned women (particularly of African descent), continued use of hydroquinone has been associated with ochronosis, which is a skin disorder characterized by progressive sooty darkening of the skin.
3. It whitens skin by killing your skin’s pigment cells. It also degenerates collagen and elastin fibres in the skin (Note: Collagen should be strengthened in order to have a youthful, smooth and glowing skin!)
4. Using Hydroquinone is counter-productive. It defeats the purpose which you want it to achieve. You want glowing, radiant, healthy and brighter skin. The long-term use only leads to these horrible signs and effects: unseemly dark knuckles and ankles, unsightly purplish vericose veins, a patch-work of colours on once beautiful skin. Have a rethink!
5. It can cause irritation and contact dermatitis and increases the risk of other types of skin irritation and/or severe itching.
6. Even if you succeed in bleaching the skin whiter with hydroquinone products, it often has an unhealthy, pasty look. Also, once you stop using it, your skin re-darkens. And since using it long-term is unhealthy, it’s basically a catch-22 situation!
7. If you live in the tropical region, the combination of hydroquinone and the sun is a bad one. Increased risk of ochronosis have been linked to excess sun exposure while using hydroquinone. As such, dermatologists often recommend to always use hydroquinone with a sunscreen. (Note: In the hot African climate, sometimes, even sunscreens do not offer enough protection for the skin!)
8. Most products with hydroquinone have an awful smell and cause intense body heat and sweating. Users often try to mask the odour by profuse use of perfumes which seems to make it even worse. There is off-the-shelf hydroquinone-based product(s) that’s so potent that users have to constantly stay in air-conditioned rooms!
9. It thins out the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), which is dangerous especially during or post- surgical procedures, as it may take the skin a longer time to heal from cuts, wounds and/or stitches.
10. It ages your skin and as you get older the effects become even more pronounced. It is not a pretty sight to see someone whose skin has been damaged by prolonged years of hydroquinone use! Age gracefully and not with disgrace. Love your skin today so that it keeps well and not fall apart tomorrow.
As one gets older, it is not uncommon to have the skin lose its luster, glow and smoothness. It may be due to a number of factors: age-spots, pregnancy, hyper-pigmentation, post-inflammatory pigmentation, melasma, sun damage due to over exposure, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and improper sleeping patterns. This may be corrected by using the right skin brighteners, vitamin/supplements and eating a proper diet.
Healthier alternatives to Hydroquinone
If you still desire a lighter, brighter skin tone, some healthier alternatives are products with Kojic acid, Azelaic acid, Arbutin, Vitamin C etc.
1. Whole Woman Network’s Body Silk skin-care line. It is an organic blend of essential oils, natural brightening butters (shea and cocoa) and minerals, made specifically for black women. The complete skincare line contains a complexion soap, toning body moisturizing lotion (night cream), radiance face cream (night cream) and a body silk butter for both face and body (daytime cream). If you are in North America, you can request for additional information and order your products via email: email@example.com
NOTE: If you are a holistic skin care practitioner, offering safe, organic and healthy skincare products and want your products added to our recommended list, please contact us.
Another popular product-line recommended by our members across Africa is the Natural Skin care & Home fragrance range from the House of Purple Rose (HPR).
They carry a range of Arabian and Western blend Perfume Oils. All their oils and serums are handcrafted and made with 100% pure natural ingredients. You may order their products by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (share the referral code “WWN” to enjoy special discounts).
Note: If you want something over the counter, a healthy skin brightening agent highly recommended by award-winning scientific researcher and writer, Nicki Zevola, (Founder and CEO of FutureDerm) is Cape Fear Naturals Kojic Acid Cream Skin Brightener ($11.95, Amazon.com) with 4% kojic acid, the highest concentration available on the North American market without a prescription.
2. Lumixyl: This was recently developed by Stanford University researchers and has been found to be effective in the treatment of melasma, and general brown patches. It is said to deliver results similar to hydroquinone, but without the toxicity. One of the best product in the Lumixyl line is the Topical Brightening Creme, which contains a non-toxic and non-irritating peptide that you can use indefinitely—no need to stop after a few months like Hydroquinone.
It can only be obtained from participating physicians. (Note: The product is still relatively new, it was released in 2009, so there few studies of noted side effects thus far). If you are interested in purchasing it, send us an email at email@example.com and we’ll connect you with one of the health professionals authorized to sell it.
3. Cod Liver Oil! According to the recommendations of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which can be found here, CLO is great for treating both acne and dullness of skin. After 8 weeks of use, there is a very noticeable brightness and radiance of the skin.
According to Michelle of beautyeditor.ca (The WWN community follow her insightful recommendations on all things skincare), the best kind of CLO is the high-quality, fermented variety because the cheaper, highly-processed ones tend to be stripped of the very vitamins that make them beneficial (for your skin and health).
Her brand of choice is Green Pasture’s (which can be ordered from the U.S.). She also recommends Carlson, the Norwegian brand of CLO. Note that the cod liver oil/high-vitamin butter oil blend, is said to be even MORE effective than the CLO alone.
4. Know your Minerals and Vitamins! Vitamin A, E and C are particularly good for radiant and brighter skin. They reduce sunspots, skin dullness, wrinkles, UV-induced erythema and sunburn and increase skin firmness and elasticity.
5. Exercise and keep fit, stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet with foods rich in Omega-3. To learn more about the right fruits for a radiant, healthy complexion, see our previous post on ‘Eating’ your way to Beautiful Skin: http://wp.me/p1o3v6-9E.
So in conclusion, remember that the skin is the largest organ of the body, so we should take good and proper care of it. We all come in different shapes, sizes and colours. Our skin tones may fall across a wide spectrum similar to Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji, Supermodel Iman, Ms Universe 2011, Leila Lopes or Ghanaian actress Nadia Buari…yet the one thing that’s common to all of us is that we are African Queens, beautiful, radiant and regal!
So let’s celebrate the skin we’re in, nurture it and pamper it with natural and healthy oils/creams (such as Shea and Cocoa butters), healthy diets and proper habits of sleep, relaxation and exercise, rather than damage and disrespect it with harmful products and bad habits. So this new year, enjoy and celebrate the unique woman you are and love the skin you’re in. Take empowered ACTION towards a Healthier, Sexier, Wealthier YOU!
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You may also find me on my Floetry Blog
Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido, MBA –Co-Founder & Executive Director at Whole Woman Network. Juliet is a Poetess, Social Entrepreneur, Leadership Consultant-Trainer. She is an avid life connoisseur and a passionate advocate of Girl-Child Education, Social Justice, WomEntrepreneurship, Investment & Financial Literacy for women.
Her mission is simply to engage, educate and empower wo(men) to return to ‘wholeness’ and live Healthier, Sexier, Wealthier Lives!
Sources: Drugs.com, BBC Documentary on Skin Bleaching in South Africa, 2012, bbc.co.uk, (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 1997), NAFDAC Nigeria, Futurederm.com, Beautyeditor.ca, (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venearology, 2006).
- Fight Facial Aging with Chemical Peels, Laser Resurfacing and Dermabrasion (aboutplasticsurgery.com)
- Africa: Where black is not really beautiful (bbc.co.uk)
- How To Lose Weight and Look Young (ireport.cnn.com)
- Skin-lightening creams face west African backlash (guardian.co.uk)