The negative effects of skin bleaching

veteran local dermatologist Mwatsveruka Munhutu

SKIN bleaching can be traced back to the late 1990s when Ambi became popular before the emergence of other skin-lightening products that include pills, creams, soap and even injections.

Skin bleaching is a cosmetic practice that aims to lighten the skin using creams and other products that contain skin-lightening ingredients.

Of late, skin-lightening products have flooded Zimbabwe’s streets selling from as little as US$1.

The use of skin-lightening cosmetics has serious complications on peoples’ health, according to health professionals.

NewsDay Weekender caught up with a veteran local dermatologist Mwatsveruka Munhutu, who shared insights on the use of skin bleaching other than treatment of skin conditions.

Conditions dermatologists prescribe medication which contains skin-lightening ingredients

In medicine, there are certain skin inflammatory disorders that tend to hyper pigment (darken) the skin.

People who have a richer melanin background can get darker after acne, leaving dark spots and they can get darker after eczema from scratching.

Dermatologists sometimes prescribe medication with skin-lightening ingredients to colour correct the skin, to even out complexion and those are valid reasons to provide medications that might contain skin lightening ingredients.

As people of colour, it’s obvious when you have had a problem because it leaves marks behind and for psychological reasons, it’s not pleasant when you have these marks on your face, it affects people’s self-esteem.

Implications of skin bleaching

I am concerned about people who do not have any problem with their skin except that they are of a darker skin tone, but probably because they look up to a celebrity who is light-skinned, they end up imitating their personalities.

This is wrong because people will be trying to change the genetic makeup of their skin colour to make it something that it is not, in the process exposing themselves to ingredients that can be harmful.

Bleaching creams contain ingredients like diprosone, betamethasone, clobetasol and potent steroids which are used for the treatment of eczema and other skin conditions.

If they are applied to someone who does not have a skin condition, they lighten their skin.

Steroids are meant to thin the epidermis so that is when you see people who have easily damaged skin, their veins showing underneath and easily bruised skin.

Skin bleaching creams and products contain ingredients like mercury, a banned substance in skincare which is nephrotoxic (damages kidneys).

I don’t believe the ingredient list is truthful or complete because some of these products make the skin too bright after a brief period and there is something in those products that is secretly killing cells that make pigmentation.

Skin-lightening products block the production of melanin. Melanin also protects the skin from the sun and bleaching exposes the skin to cancer. When we think of skin, we think of melanin, but melanin is in the eye, which allows us to see colour.

Dampening of self-esteem

United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean skincare enthusiast Tatenda Chikowe said acne (bad skin) used to affect her confidence such that she could not leave the house without applying make-up.

As women, we were told so many things about ourselves that the last thing you want is somebody telling you that your skin is too dark, or you have acne because that really affects your confidence, and another issue is colourism, when it feels like you must be light skinned to be relevant.

Side effects caused by skin bleaching

Some of the side effects of people bleaching is that they cannot drive at night due to colour blindness, they cannot tell the difference between green and red.

Also, some of the side effects caused by skin bleaching cannot be directly linked to the practice. A lot happens beyond the surface and beauticians as well as marketing and advertising from these premises do not tell their customers that these products can be harmful.

Because people are accessing these products outside of medical facilities, there is a spread of diseases and bacteria, especially when the process includes injections, the same needle may be used on different people.

Some of the creams contain hydroquinone, which is known to lighten the skin, and dermatologists prescribe it for the treatment of blemishes and dark spots.

Dermatologists inform the patient that it cannot be used for a period too long.

Hydroquinone causes a paradoxical darkening causing ochronosis, which looks like cheeks are burnt, very dark and is irreversible — permanent damage to the skin.

Dermatologists do not recommend skin bleaching

Marketing from the beauty industry does not tell that bleaching is not safe. It comes with complications that one cannot link to skin bleaching, for example, blindness and kidney problems.

Dermatologists prescribe medications with skin-lightening ingredients for medical reasons and only for use on affected areas, but for general people who do not have skin conditions bleaching is unnecessary.


I recommend using sunscreen, exfoliants since the skin may appear very dull from piled up dead cells and wearing sunhats when exposed to the sun. This improves the complexion that people may find it very unnecessary to bleach their skin.

Africans should embrace their natural skin tone rich in melanin which protects us against many cancers.

Women, girls and even men involved in this harmful practice are urged to embrace their skin tone and understand that beauty comes in different shades.

Related Topics