You’ve got lighter skin, but at what cost?

effects of toning the skin, bleaching skin, Nigerian Ladies, bleached skin

Have you noticed that despite the harsh sunlight that we are exposed to as West Africans, some people have unrealistic white skin that makes them the cynosure of all eyes and, perhaps, objects of envy wherever they are?

The skin glows, it is spotless and looks smooth to touch.

Before now, those who desired fair skin usually went for skin lightening creams whose active ingredient was hydroquinone.

The online portal,, notes that medically, hydroquinone is used to lighten the dark patches of skin (also called hyperpigmentation, melasma, liver spots, age spots, or freckles) caused by pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone medicine, or injury to the skin.

Under the guidance of competent medical personnel, this aromatic organic compound works by blocking the process in the skin that leads to discoloration. Even at that, physicians say, hydroquinone may make the treated areas of skin more sensitive to the sun. As such, users are advised to avoid prolonged sun exposure, tanning booths, and sunlamps.

When outdoors, they are advised to use a sunscreen and wear protective clothing on the treated areas of skin.

At a point, hydroquinone came under scrutiny as experts began to suspect that it was carcinogenic — that is, it contains properties that could cause cancer in humans. Consequently, on August 29, 2006, the United States Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on over-the-counter sales of cosmetic products containing hydroquinone.

Researchers say studies in rodents show some evidence that hydroquinone may cause cancer. Worse still, scientists say, short term use of hydroquinone has been linked with the medical condition known as ochronosis, whereby the skin becomes dark and thick; or sometimes plagued with “dome-shaped yellowish spots and grayish-brown spots.

Some studies also report abnormal function of the adrenal glands and high levels of mercury in people who have used cosmetics containing hydroquinone.

As the authorities were battling the cosmetic industry on the use of this controversial ingredient in their products, the beauty world was also busy working on possible alternatives for those who may rather die than remain in the castle of dark skin.

Enter the glutathione injection, which, users say, works like magic because, no matter how dark your skin is, it soon becomes near-white under the influence of glutathione.

Dermatologists say glutathione works by absorbing ultraviolet rays and preventing the sun from darkening the skin. “It also reduces the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for the darkening of the skin as a result of exposure to the sun,” they explain.

Skin care specialist, Dr. George Adelanwa, says, “In general, whitening injection is largely composed of anti-oxidising components such as vitamin C, Glutathione and Transamin.

“These components provide functions like detoxification, melanin control and metabolism facilitation, etc., and therefore are effective in brightening skin complexion,” experts say.

Adelanwa also says he suspects that some of the ingredients are combined with herbal extracts like Ginkgo extract to provide more effective results.

A Nigerian woman who had taken the Glutathione injection (valued at between N180,000 and N250,000) but who would not want her name in print confesses that she needs to “maintain” the effectiveness of the injection by taking oral glutathione capsules regularly. This, she says, cost about N60,000 per month.

She also confesses to taking Vitamin E capsules and refraining from walking in the sun without any protection.

Adelanwa notes that skin-whitening injections promise users a ‘white’ skin by removing all kinds of skin blemishes, including scars and pigmentation marks; while improving skin texture and suppleness.

“Indeed, users expect better and glowing skin, as the injection promises a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles,” he explains.

Apart from being in injectable form, Glutathione also features as an active ingredient in certain topical skin products such as toners, soaps, facial wash, sun-block lotions, moisturisers, lotions, and creams.

Yet, experts warn that Glutathione is an antioxidant known for its cell regeneration properties and approved for treating cataracts and glaucoma, preventing ageing, treating or preventing alcoholism, asthma, cancer, heart disease (atherosclerosis and high cholesterol), hepatitis, liver disease, diseases that weaken the body’s defense system (including AIDS and chronic fatigue syndrome), memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis, and Parkinson’s disease

Researchers at the Uppsala Monitoring Centre, which is the World Health Organisation’s Collaborating Centre for International Drug Monitoring, note that Glutathione is protein comprising three amino acids — cysteine, glutamine, and glycine.

Adelanwa notes that since Nigeria is a tropical country and our dark colour helps in fending off too much sun, when the skin is lightened artificially through the use of any agent, it will lead to lighter melanin, which lowers the body’s defences against ultraviolet rays.

“Common side effects associated with Glutathione injection overdose range from skin rashes and stomach ache, to thyroid disease, and serious to potentially fatal conditions such as kidney failure, blood poisoning, Stevens-Johnson syndrome (a potentially deadly skin disease), and toxic epidermal necrolysis, in which a large portion of the skin peels off, exposing the human body to many infections,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Again, doctors warn, diabetic patients must be wary of Glutathione use. Another study warns that people who are allergic to milk protein and those who have received organ transplant are advised against using any form of Glutathione.

Worse still, when the injections are done by untrained persons, FDA warns further, “It can lead to embolism (blood clot, a fat globule or a gas bubble in the bloodstream), the introduction of harmful microorganisms that result in serious infections such as fatal sepsis, as well as the transmission of deadly diseases such as Hepatitis B and HIV.”

In May 2011, FDA issued an advisory on Glutathione injection. It warns, “The alarming increase in the unapproved use of Glutathione administered intravenously (direct into the veins) as a skin-whitening agent at very high doses is unsafe and may result in serious consequences to the health of users.”

And, as fearful as it is, Adelanwa warns that unlike injections, the adverse effects of Glutathione capsules take time to manifest. “Even at that, the reactions are not the same in individuals; it’s on a case-by-case basis,” he enthuses.


Culled from