The dark side of skin lightening

Dangers of skin whitening creams. (File Photo/ Jasmine Halki)

Mpumalanga – Desperate women have fallen prey to scams that promise ‘amazing results’ and some have joined social media groups where they buy home-made skin products that have never been tested.

Veronica, a 17-year-old from Ermelo who asked to remain anonymous, said she was bullied in high school because of her dark skin. “My mother became worried and introduced me to skin lightening. She assured me that I will look more beautiful. For a few months, my skin became lighter. At first, I was happy because my peers at school accepted me and showed interest in me, but then I started having pimples on my face that are watery and now I am left with marks.”     

Burns and scaring

Busisiwe Gama, 21, Daantjies area in Mpumalanga told OurHealth that she and her friends started using skin lightening to “look beautiful” for their matric dance. It was easy for her to get the products because a relative of hers sells them.  “Even though I get compliments from people about my skin; I am never satisfied with what I see,” said Gama.

Nkuli Msimango, 35, from the City of Mbombela, started using skin lightening cream for a few months. “Everything was fine until I began noticing some burns and scaring on my elbows. My friends said it was normal but I was concerned so I went to see a doctor, who advised me that the marks were side effects of the products, which can cause skin cancer.”  

Health complications

Dermatologist Nkensani Ngobeni said some people bleach their skin because they associate light skin with beauty while others do it to try to hide existing conditions like marks on their bodies.  According to Ngobeni, many people don’t realise the products they are using is illegal and contain ingredients that can cause serious skin and health complications.

Mpumalanga based Ngobesi said some of these skin lightening products contain ingredients that may have carcinogenic properties that can cause health complications and increase risks of cancer. “My advice for women who want to start using it, please don’t! Most of the side effects are not reversible and these products can be addictive… like drugs.”

Nurse Fikile Lorraine Simelane told OurHealth that the problem is bigger than people realise. “Growing up, young girls with darker skin are usually not being told they are beautiful. In some cases its mothers who introduce their daughters to these illegal products. As parents, let’s start praising our girls because if we don’t, they will grow up with low self-esteem. My advice for those teens and women who are already using these products, please stop before it becomes an addiction.” – Health-e News


  • Cynthia Maseko

    Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.

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