Dark side of skin-lightening

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A billboard advertising a skin-lightening product called "Khess Petch".

Lagos - Skin-lightening products and surgical procedures can backfire by ruining looks and affecting the kidneys.

A majority of Nigerian women bleach their skin, spurred by a perception that light skin means they&39;ll have more success, get more attention and be appreciated more.

"Regaining my healthy, dark skin colour was a huge task," said 25-year-old Amaka Frank from Abuja.

The university graduate said the skin-whitening agent she used left rough, multi-coloured patches on her face and body.

She spent two years trying to reverse the process and is still working to restore her natural skin colour.

"It gives you a flashy look that draws attention to you," Frank said, adding that the side effects of bleaching were disastrous.

"I thought it would make me more beautiful and attractive to men, but I turned ugly and scary," she said.

According to 2011 statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation, at least 77% of Nigerian women use whiteners.

Skin-lightening products, also known as skin brighteners or bleaching creams, make naturally dark skin paler by reducing melanin, the dark pigments in the body.

These products range from soaps and creams to pills and injections.

Medical experts have discouraged is use because of the harmful effects of ingredients like hydroquinone and mercury.

Dr Eleazar Ajis at the Jos University Teaching Hospital said these agents might cause cancer and organ failure.

"Hydroquinone prevents the skin from producing melanin, which is responsible for the dark coloration of the skin," Ajis said.

He said mercury in the blood stream could cause "neurological and kidney damage, psychiatric disorders and birth defects in pregnant women."

Despite the soaring use of skin-bleaching creams, many dark-skinned Nigerians are happy with their complexions.

"The darker a person, the more melanin she possesses, which could serve as a natural sunscreen that protects humans from the violent rays of the sun," said Ann Jerry, a bio-chemist from Lagos.

She added that people with black skin are less susceptible to skin cancer.

Those who insist on altering their skin colour could turn to herbs and natural methods that are less dangerous, according to a dietician in Lagos.

"Lemon juice and honey could serve as natural screen moisturiser and whitener," said Deborah Onoja.

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