Discolouration of the skin, dark spots and uneven skin tone are issues that would frighten almost anyone. However, we, in Pakistan, have this gora complex or in simpler terms a large chunk of our total population lives with the complex of having fairer skin. Many have forgotten to embrace their original skin colour and are readily taking measures to permanently change their natural look. From fairness creams to mixtures of different bleaching creams, myriad of bizarre pastes are available in the market and are passed on by one skin whitening fanatic to the other.
Apart from creams and lotions, cosmetic surgeons have now started offering laser techniques and invasive injections to bleach one’s skin. However, despite so many skin whitening techniques being available in the market, many Pakistani dermatologists and cosmeticians still advise people to stay away from harmful ingredient as much as they can.
“The side effects of these bleaching agents are far more adverse than people think they may be,” says Redah Misbah of Depilex. “Plus the marketing campaigns that marginalise darker skin tones and associate it with failure are making this skin whitening frenzy go from bad to worse.”
Dr Omer H Sheikh, who is a cosmetic surgeon in Lahore and runs his own clinic under the name of Aesthetics, talks about procedures offered at his clinic and the harmful effects of using them without doctor’s prescription. “All these skin whitening creams contain steroids and cortisone. Mixing Betnovate with Stillmans and Archies may give to instant results but in the longer-run it can aggravate skin problems.” Dr Sheikh adds that these mixtures can result in thinning of the skin, dilation of the blood vessels, premature ageing and even greying of body hair.
Dr Sheikh also offers a skin whitening procedure at his clinic but says it’s slightly different in nature. The process which is called the Photo Laser Light technique helps neutralise melatonin production and according to Dr Sheikh, it is not essentially skin whitening but is a procedure to neutralise the skin and to reverse excessive tanning.
Dr Badr Dhanani, a dermatologist from Karachi, however, disproves Dr Sheikh claims and says, “Laser can’t whiten or lighten your skin. People are living in this hype of fair skin and that has led them to spend exorbitant amounts of money to achieve this. Glutathione injections are generally an antioxidant but lightening of the skin colour is one of its side effects.”
Many cosmetic surgery practices are now offering these injections to lighten the skin but it was noted that these injections only suppress melatonin production and not inhibit it completely. “Once the injections are stopped the skin will eventually revert back to its normal tone,” adds Dr Dhanani. “Someone has to be mentally instable to take this route because the injections are extremely painful and need to be taken regularly.”
Misbah is extremely worried about her clients who take adverse measures to whiten their skin and then come running back with serious issues with their skin. “There is no cure for it. Any agent that instantly changes your skin colour has damaging ingredients. You don’t even need to get these creams tested to know how detrimental they are to the skin,” says Misbah. “We don’t have labs or Food and Drug Administration approval institutions here and even after explaining the side effects of these lightening techniques to people, only about 40 per cent of the clients actually understand, while most of them still end up using them.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.