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06.02.2005 Feature Article

Re: Bleaching and its Effects Among Ghanaians

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I am the President of Hawknad Manufacturing Industries, the manufacturers of Clear-N-Smooth skin care products which include skin toning creams. I normally do not respond to articles on skin bleaching creams but Stephanie Quayson's article is so full of technical inaccuracies and misinformation that I deem it my responsibility to set things straight.

The basic difference between the black complexion and the white complexion is the melanin content of the skin. Black people have more melanin than white people. Melanin is a good thing because it protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. The more melanin one has in his or her skin the darker the one appears. The skin tends to increase melanin production in response to continued exposure to the sun. This explains why white people get darker during the summer.

In the USA, hydroquinone is the only ingredient approved as being safe and effective in skin bleaching applications at concentrations between 1.8% and 2.0%. It is illegal to sell skin toning creams containing more than 2% hydroquinone.

Hydroquinone, at 2%, does not peel off the outer layer of the skin. Hydroquinone, at such low concentrations, work naturally with the skin chemistry to lower the melanin content. The complexion appears fairer as the melanin content of the skin reduces. However, there is an optimal point beyond which the continued use of 2% hydroquinone creams does not produce any additional melanin reduction. The only way to get fairer at that point is to use a stronger product, say 5% hydroquinone cream. The bleaching action of 2% hydroquinone cream is reversible and the complexion will return to its dark state if the consumer stops using the product completely.

I always use two terms to describe the bleaching action: skin toning and skin bleaching. Skin toning products contain 2% hydroquinone and they tone the skin by fading out the dark spots to match the lighter spots, thereby creating a brighter and more uniform complexion. At Hawknad, we incorporate sunscreen in our products to offer additional protection from the sun because of this melanin reduction. I use the term bleaching to refer to products containing more than 2% hydroquinone. Hydroquinone concentrations exceeding 2% tend to be toxic to the skin and most skin problems associated with bleaching creams can be traced to products containing more than 2% hydroquinone and steroids. The steroids are made for clinical uses and not as skin creams. Long-term use of steroids produces irreversible adverse effects on the skin, including surface peeling.

As a manufacturer the biggest problem Hawknad faces is competitors who willingly produce stronger than 2% hydroquinone creams because African women want stronger products. All they care about is increasing their market share regardless of the harm being done to consumers. And, yes, we also encourage such illegal and unwholesome products by purchasing them.

Another issue that aggravates the problem is the habit of mixing steroids into skin toning creams to increase their bleaching power. I have always cautioned consumers about mixing products. The average skin cream contains about 10 to 20 different ingredients and each cream may be harmless as produced. When you bring two or more creams together, the chances are that there will be a chemical reaction between two or more incompatible ingredients to produce harmful byproducts.

Some people advocate that skin toning creams should be banned altogether. The European Union tried to do that in Europe and it did not work. In Japan and elsewhere in Asia, the leading skin care products are skin toning products. Yes, Asians bleach to get whiter than their normal yellow complexion. Stephanie made a good point about the role of fair complexion in the competition for men or women in our society. As long as this competition exists and fair skin has some advantages, people will use all kinds of means, good or bad, to achieve a lighter complexion. I am told in Gambia, where skin toning creams are banned, people use perming creams to achieve a lighter complexion.

In Ghana, it is illegal to import or sell skin toning products containing more than 2% hydroquinone. Consumers are not knowledgeable enough to discern which products to buy. It is the responsibility of the Government to protect them through enforcement actions. The existing laws are protective enough and all we have to do is to enforce them. Charles O. Dankwah, President Hawknad Mfg. Industries, Inc. Clear-N-Smooth Products, USA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Charles O. Dankwah
Charles O. Dankwah, © 2005

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: CharlesODankwah

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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