Skin lightening creams. File picture: Bongiwe Mchunu
Durban - Small businesses including stalls at flea markets, spice shops and prayer goods outlets are breaking the law by selling skin bleaching cosmetics which are hazardous to those who use them. Experts say the quest for lighter skin is fuelled by celebrities, the entertainment industry, peer pressure and social media.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) of South Africa told the Daily News that government notice R1 227 prohibited the sale of any cosmetic product which purported to be a skin bleacher, skin lightener or skin whitener.

The CTFA’s executive director, Adelia Pimentel, said: “There is sufficient anecdotal evidence indicating a very high demand for skin bleaching products in the country which has made it lucrative for small operators to illegally import creams, lotions and soaps which are then sold over the counter and on the streets. These goods can easily be obtained without a prescription or being compliant with South African standards.”

Pimentel said some of these products contained substances which were banned from use in cosmetics and toiletries. She said the cosmetic industry had been self-regulated for at least 24 years but the Department of Health recently published regulations relating to the labelling, advertising and composition of cosmetics.

They were currently in a “commentary period” which would end on March 22. Promulgation would take place soon afterwards. This meant that the regulations were not yet enforceable, said Pimentel.

South African dermatologist to the stars Ishaan Ramkisson has warned that pictures of celebrities who bleached their skin did not always portray the truth.

Ramkisson said his trained eye could see when Photoshop or make-up had been used to achieve a lighter skin tone. He cautioned against the use of skin lightening products, saying most of them contained harmful substances.

These included steroids, hydroquinone, mercury and lead, which could damage the skin. He said the illegal skin “brightening” products found in many spice shops and prayer goods shops usually had fancy names to attract buyers and were beautifully packaged.

However, after six months the users had to deal with the side-effects, which included thinning of the skin, acne, secondary pigmentation and unusual hair growth.

“The skin also gets addicted to lighteners,” he said.

Ramkisson said those who were interested in skin lightening procedures to get rid of pigmentation would respond well to dermatologist-approved topical options like creams and laser treatment.

He cautioned those who were interested in full-body skin bleaching through the use of glutathione 4 drips that “the body will always want to go back to what is natural”.

Only dermatologists were allowed to administer glutathione but this was done with caution because, if used incorrectly, it could lead to kidney failure and Steven-Johnson syndrome, a serious disorder which affected the skin and mucous membranes.

He said one of the risks of skin lighteners which contained hydroquinone was ochronosis, in which the skin turned purple. He urged the public to always get professional help and question what was in the products they bought as it could be hazardous.

Daily News