“It sounded unbelievable when I heard it, until I witnessed it in my neighbourhood,” Sarah Adegoke said.
“A child born by a woman suddenly developed a skin condition that looked quite abnormal for a child that age. I asked the mother what it was and if she had taken the child to hospital for examination by a dermatologist but she said it was nothing to worry about, that she was only reacting to the cream she was using for her and would adjust soon.”
She said further inquiry revealed that the woman had mixed two popular steroid-based creams for treating skin infections in the palm kernel oil she uses for the child. This wasn’t the first time; she had done same with her two older children and continues to use same for their skin.
Skin bleaching in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Nigeria ranks as one of the countries with the highest statistics of skin bleaching.
At least 40 per cent of women in Africa bleach their skin, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Country statistics show that 77 per cent of women in Nigeria use skin bleaching products.
Skin bleaching has potential to cause liver and kidney damage, psychosis and brain damage in foetuses and cancer, according to WHO.
While women bleaching their skin may have become a norm, a new fad a lot of women are latching onto is bleaching their unborn children in the uterus, using glutathione, a natural antioxidant produced in the body by the liver. Intravenous glutathione treatments or tablets are taken to lighten the skin and pregnant women are encouraged to take same to lighten the skin of their unborn babies.
Among the chemicals used for skin lightening is hydroquinone and mercury, which are used to inhibit melanin production, a naturally occurring chemical that darkens the skin. Some known side effects of hydroquinone include dermatitis (skin irritation), blue-black discolouration and blindness. Other producers of skin bleaching creams use steroids which are prescribed for treatment of skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis and are not supposed to be used for long periods as prolonged usage can cause skin thinning.
Despite the inherent risks, no one seems to be backing down on the use of these harmful skin bleaching chemicals. From using topical creams, injectables and tablets have become the go to options for those desirous of evenly light complexion, who reckon that using same for their children will make them lighter skinned and more beautiful.
Call it a transfer of identity crisis by women to their children and you will not be wrong. A woman who has totally altered her complexion by bleaching wants her children to be light skinned too, to create the illusion that she is naturally light skinned and they take after her.
Fears that the drugs can cause birth defects and damage internal organs and limbs of foetuses exposed to them are not enough to discourage their usage by those who swear by them.
The issue of bleaching children’s skin first came into prominence in 2018, with the story of Ghanaian women who were involved in the consumption of skin lightening pills to bleach their children.
Not ones to be left out, Nigerian women have since caught up with the trend using all manner of mixed soaps and creams for their babies.
Makers of skin lightening products now include baby products in their range and mothers, especially, patronise them gleefully, under the guise of maintaining their children’s skin or teaching them to care for their skin.
A four-time mother, Safiya Salau, who uses traditionally made soap and creams for her children’s “skin maintenance” insists that the products are harmless.
Reacting to the development, Co-founder/Chief Product Officer, Esteem Royale Cosmetics, Idowu Ejere, said it is repulsive, appalling and unethical for any parent and any brand to permit or promote skin lightening or bleaching products for kids.
“There are myriad issues here. First, the child is not old enough to make such decisions that will have an impact on his or her life later. Secondly, lightening the skin makes it sensitive to sunlight hence the campaign for use of sunscreen to avoid hyperpigmentation… but kids love to play on the sun. Stopping them from playing outdoors in these climes just because a parent chooses to bleach their skin is robbing them of their childhood. There should be clampdown on brands and companies that promote skin bleaching for kids.”
Ejere further pointed out that while adults can make the choice as they have an understanding of the implications, can protect themselves from UVA/UVB rays, can read the ingredients list and make a decision and can bear the financial commitment that comes with skin bleaching, it is not safe for kids because the ingredients used may also be harsher on kids as at such age, their skin is tender and they are more susceptible to reactions.
Continuing, she said at a young age, what is important is skin health and ensuring kids have healthy skin, which is the largest organ of the body is important for their self-esteem but not through bleaching.
Even though her company has a range of skincare products for children, Owner and Chief Formulator of DOT Cosmetics, Doo Ter Umah says the products do not bleach the skin.
She said they contain herbs such as calendula which work against skin inflammation, calms irritations, clears nappy rash and leaves the baby’s skin soft, smooth, clean and moisturised.
Umah said bleaching children’s skin “is like suicide” and she’ll never subscribe to it.
“There’s the danger of kidney failure and liver issues because verything you put on your skin goes into your blood stream. The steroids in many bleaching creams are harmful and too strong for a baby’s internal organs to absorb or process,” she added.
A lecturer and consultant paediatrician at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) Makurdi, Dr RamatuJummai Abdallah, told 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE that recurrent miscarriages and malformation of major organs and structures of the body leading to defects of the limbs, gastrointestinal tract and heart are some of the effects of ingestion of bleaching pills by pregnant women hence the need for the trend to be strongly discouraged.
She said because they contain chemicals which may be toxic to the skin depending on the area applied and duration of use, skin bleaching creams should not be used for children.
“The skin becomes very thin, losing its elasticity. This will lead to easy bruisabilityand poor wound healing, skin infections and in the long term, discolouration and cancer of the skin.
For those desirous of a lighter complexion, Abdallah said skin colour is determined majorly by genetics and the environment. She said eating healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits, drinking plenty waterand wearing sun protective clothing will go a long way in maintaining a healthy skin.