Elise King*, a 22-year-old law student, started using bleaching creams at age 11. “I never thought anything was wrong with using bleaching creams,” she says. “In my community, like many African communities, it was common. My mother gave me these creams to use because she wanted me to be accepted the same way that she, a light-skinned woman, was.”
It wasn’t until she got to college that she started to question why she was altering her appearance. “I stopped using them, and tried to embrace my natural beauty,” King explains.
And it’s good that she did because, despite their seductive labels that claim the products “tone” your skin and make you “glow,” these creams can cause harm. Some imported creams made in Germany and South America have a high mercury and arsenic content and can lead to death. Too much mercury intake can shut down your kidneys, while arsenic and hydroquinone both have high cancer risks.
King admits that she still uses bleaching creams to fade dark spots or to get rid of a dark tan: “I still struggle with this issue, since I receive more compliments when I appear lighter, but I’m learning to adjust to it.”
*Name has been changed.
- Audra E. Lord