REAL HUSTLE. Following the return of Bad Black turned Good Brown, our reporter went undercover to dig into the new bleaching technics of the new century.
Writer Victoria M. Massie in her article on skin lightening and identity quotes North Carolina Central University political science professor Yaba Blay, who says that skin lightening grabs our attention because it plays a part in racial identity. She says a person’s skin colour is representative of who they are and lightening or bleaching it is a sign of discomfiture with oneself.
In a way, it feels that way as I walk into a beauty shop to look for skin lightening options in a bid to write this story. I have a dark complexion you could describe as chocolate. After the shock of Bad Black turned Good Brown (she said she used injections and tablets to lighten her skin), it feels like there is a wave of naturally dark skinned women lightening their skin complexion. So, I figured I would find out what it would be like to shop for lighter skin myself.
No one wants to talk
The look on the attendants face is emotionless as she walks my friend and I to the section where they sell the creams. My friend acts as my ‘moral support’ while I ‘shop’ but it feels as though the attendant, dark-skined herself, is trying very hard not to be judgmental without much success.
“Don’t you have tablets or injections which can do the job?” I ask after she shows us the options they offer at the shop.
“No, we do not but I have heard of the tablets. I hear they work faster but for us, we only sell creams,” the attendant replies, this time a little sympathetically.
Clearly mortified, I explain that I want the tablets or injections because of their extreme makeover result as opposed to the creams. We walk out minutes later visibly hurt by the fact that we have not got what we want and a few metres on, we walk into a pharmacy and ask the same question.
Here, the attendant is far more receptive and open about the subject. She advices me not to use tablets or injections; although she says she doesn’t sell them; because they make it easy for someone to notice that you have bleached.
“You know those things [tablets or injections] make you light so fast that everyone notices, which is not the same with these creams,” she explains before adding;
“We have some creams that would actually work for you. You apply it on your body and if it leaves any dark marks say around your knuckles, you apply serum. One bottle of the cream and the serum is enough for you although for some, you could use two bottles of each,” she explains as she hands us some bottles of the cream.
The cream in question costs Shs100, 000 while the serum costs Shs48, 000. This time round, I inspect the ingredients and find that the lotion has hydroquinone of two per cent, an ingredient that Uganda National Bureau of Standards has banned to be used in cosmetics because of its harmful side effects.
The danger with creams
Later, Dr Malik Ssempereza, a dermatologist with Unity Skin Clinic, explains that hydroquinone permanently damages the skin and causes discolouration by permeating through the skin layer to the deep walls of the skin. “It hardens skin cells and causes what is referred to as binamakula in our local language or hexogenous ochronosis. But this again comes after long usage in high concentrations,” he explains. When asked about the quantity, he says the concentration should be utmost two per cent. “I have gone downtown and seen people using concentration of up to eight per cent which is dangerous,” he adds.Nonetheless, the attendant when asked about the side effects in the cream she was recommending, had sweetly smiled, assuring me that the cream has no side effects. Her marketing almost got me writing the story there and then; thinking for a minute, that maybe, just maybe tablets and injections did not exist since once again, she tells us she doesn’t know how to get them.
Making a breakthrough
A few weeks later, I walk into a skin clinic, spotless clean, a little dull but with an expensive ambiance. I am assured they [the clinic] offer skin lightening options by use of tablets and injections. I am given a questionnaire to fill in for medical history and I ask myself why they need the history.
“We need to know some things,” the receptionist, who had given me a brief on the use of the two the day before on phone, further states. I hand her the filled out questionnaire and she takes it to the doctor before I go in for the consultation.
“So Janet, what do you want from me?” the doctor asks. For a moment, I thought of telling him the truth that I am a journalist and I want information but I knew he would not tell me everything if I did. So, I instead tell him how I have looked around for tablets and injections in vain until I called and I was told they [the clinic] offer the services. From his stature, I can tell he has heard the story before.
“Creams are bad because they have hydroquinone,” he says, illustrating his point on a piece of paper. He explains that they cause ochronosis and that even though the client may start seeing side effects much later, using creams could lead to diseases such as skin cancer. He then recommends using injections and tablets which he refers to as safer as he continues to explain.
“The body produces a certain antioxidant called glutathione, which is responsible for suppressing elements that contribute to aging and cancer development. However, it is produced in small quantities. What the injections do is to increase its production so the client will have a healthier and younger look. The side effect of having a lot of glutathione is that it suppresses melanin production which is responsible for giving you dark or light skin. As a result, you will be lighter,” the doctor explains.
He adds that the number of tablets or injections one uses depends on how the body reacts but it can take up to six months to produce noticeable effects.
“In case you decide to use injections, once you achieve the colour you want, you can stop and take a tablet each day to maintain the colour because once glutathione reduces in the body, melanin production increases and the old skin colour will come back.” It all sounded safe at that moment, if I wanted to become lighter, I would have jumped at the opportunity.
To or not to?
However, Dr Ssempereza, the dermatologist says use of any skin lightening product should be as a result of a medical condition. He cites skin diseases such as malagma or bad acne which can cause darkening of the skin, in which case a person can be prescribed skin lightening products to restore the original colour.
“For hydroquinone products, if under medical supervision, you can use it for only eight months, beyond which it is considered as long term use and may cause side effects,” he says.
“Tablets and injections on the other hand increase the production of glutathione which is important to the body and there is no scientific proof that its increased production is harmful to the body in any way,” he adds.
He continues that using these only causes temporary blockages of melanin production which can easily be reversed when one stops using them. However, he cautions that use of glutathione products is still new and its effects have not been fully analysed. “The problem is permanent use; you cannot be too sure of its effects,” he concludes.
Cost and implementation
Tablets; the doctor at the skin clinic says, one can take between one and three tablets a day depending on how fast one wants to achieve the desired colour.
A sachet contains 30 tablets and costs USD130, which is about Shs442,000. If you take three tablets per day, you will use one sachet for 10 days or one week and three days so you will end up buying a sachet every week or so. Once the desired complexion is achieved, you can reduce the dosage to a tablet a day to maintain t maintain it.
Injections; this choice, the doctor says, brings quicker results. Each bottle costs USD300 (approximately Shs340,000). One can use a maximum of four bottles every week. Once the required complexion is attained, the injections are replaced with a tablet a day to maintain it. For even quicker results, use injections and tablets at the same time. If you are not in a hurry though, the slowest way to a lighter complexion is by taking the tablets alone.
“It can take up to a month before there is any noticeable results so do not lose hope after taking the injections for a month and you do not see any results,” the doctor continues before stressing that although creams can start showing results faster, they are not safe for me to use.
I walk out of the clinic with a little pain in my ankles because of the high heels, I look at the flyers and posters arranged neatly at the receptionist’s desk and I feel a little ugly compared to the perfect smooth light skins in the pictures.
Then I ask myself, would I really go to have my skin lightened? After all, Full Woman has already paid the consultation fee.