The modern quest to be ‘the fairest of them all’. Supplied picture.

Skin lightening and bleaching is a growing multi-billion industry that aims to promote fair and flawless skin.

The market is flooded with skin-lightening creams and lotions which some may be harmful and cause more damage than good.

Research Psychologist and PHD student at UCT Meagan Jacobs is studying  the influence of media on the aesthetics of skin lightening and other beauty practices in South Africa so as to inform policy and the regulation of the beauty industry. She shares her insights into the local market. 


What are some of the dangers for consumers associated with skin lightening products? 

Skin lightening products contains active ingredients such as mercury, hydroquinone and its derivatives; topical steroids and resorcinol which can, with chronic use, cause irreversible skin damage. Cosmetics containing these ingredients can cause itching, burning, darker skin patches, skin irritation and even skin cancer.


Are any skin lightening formulations safe for consumers? 

Yes there some. 

Two aspects which can determine the safety of products:  the concentration of active ingredients in the products and whether or not it was prescribed by a dermatologist. In the first instance the active ingredient as well as the concentration thereof should be clearly indicated on the labelling of the product. 

A good example is a product called Eurocin. In the second instance, the treatment for certain skin conditions are under the supervision of a dermatologist which prescribes the products and instructions of the usage. Due to the notion that skin lightening products are classified as cosmetics instead of pharmaceuticals, a lesser degree of control is executed therefore allowing the greater availability of products whether it is locally manufactured or imported

What kind of policies do you think we need to develop in South Africa with regard to imported skin lightening products?

The same policies applied to South African products should be applied to imported products. 

South Africa has the strictest policy in the world where it prohibits advertising of products to “bleach, whiten or lighten”. Instead products are marketed using synonyms such as “radiance”, “bright,” “light” and “clear”. In comparison with South African products, imported products are labelled as “skin brightening” “Skin lightening” and “skin whitening”.


What are the most important messages that need to be communicates to SA  consumers using, considering the use of skin lightening products? 

Consumers should make informed decisions when attempting to use skin lightening products. 

Firstly they should be aware that some products are not marketed as skin lightening product due to policy implementation and are mostly marketed as moisturizers, lotions and facial creams to “correct” skin problems such as dry skin, oily skin, remove blemishes and to create an even skin tone.  

Secondly, skin lightening products should always contain a sunscreen to protect the skin against the harmful Ultra voilet rays as well as the effects of the active ingredient in the products.

Thirdly the cream/ formulation provided by pharmacists to treat skin problems may contain ingredients which have skin lightening properties especially if the container is not labelled. Lastly it is important to follow the instructions on how to use the product and not to increase the dosage.

How can  parents raise their children differently so that both boys and girls have a more realistic view of beauty and attractiveness? 

Children are growing up in a media dominating society. On a daily basis they are exposed many media images which parents cannot always control. What parents can control is how and what they say in front of children. For example do you talk about disliking your body or skin color in front of your child? 

Being the child’s role model should be on top of any parents list. Mothers are a daughter’s first role models and fathers for their sons. Parents should guide children on “what and how should be done”. Through this children discover themselves and where their place is in the world even when they are confronted with social pressures. 

Additionally it is vital to keep communication channels open between you and your child. This will ensure that the child feels safe and can approach you as the parent should a problem arise.

* You can attend Meagan Jacob’s presentation at the 7th annual the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP)  Festival of Learning in Cape Town on Thursday and Friday (May 24 and 25)  at the SACAP Campus, in Claremont .

* Tickets for the 2018 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets. Costs are R200 for the full-day programme, which includes dialogues and panel discussion. Tickets for the short-talk evening programme which includes catering and networking opportunities is R200.  There is a special offer for students at R80 per ticket.