Skin lightening creams should be banned, following renewed concerns over their safety (BMJ, 17 October 1992).
These products rely on the active ingredient hydroquinone, which has long been known to cause external symptoms of ochronosis, a permanent darkening and roughening of the skin, when used in higher concentrations. However, the drug has been now shown to be harmful in lower doses.
Britain and a host of other countries imposed an upper limit of 2 per cent of hydroquinone in cosmetic products around 10 years ago. But studies have found symptoms of ochronosis in women using only low dose skin lighteners. In South Africa, nearly one third of women attending a gynaecology clinic who used skin lighteners showed evidence of the condition.
Researchers point out that even at lower doses, chemists have no control over the amount and frequency with which skin lightening products are used. They also fear that despite the legal limit of 2 per cent, the actual amount of hydroquinone in some products may be higher.