The use of hydroquinone is also said to have potentially serious side effects with some reports stating it is carcinogenic.

Ghana bans skin-lightening agent hydroquinone Will India ever take the bold stepImage for representation
Features Health Wednesday, June 08, 2016 - 15:25

In a move welcomed by many across the world, the West African country of Ghana has reportedly announced a ban on the import and sale of hydroquinone- a chemical used in skin-lightening products- from August. 

"Concerning skin lightening products, we are saying that from August 2016, all products containing hydroquinone will not be allowed into the country. From 2016, the acceptance for skin lightening products is going to be zero," James Lartey, Spokesperson of Food and Drug Authority (FDA) of Ghana, told Starr FM.

What is hydroquinone? 

It is an ingredient commonly used in a lot of skin-lightening products. What it basically does is that it inhibits melanin production in the skin and is considered effective for treating conditions like hyperpigmentation, acne marks, melasma, and other skin discoloration issues. 

A controversial product

Several countries including USA, Japan and Australia have either banned or imposed regulations on the over-the-counter sales of products containing hydroquinone. 

Dr Soma Sarkar, a cosmetic dermatologist, told TOI, "The chemical is added to the cream to give instant results in a week."

The use of hydroquinone is also said to have potentially serious side effects with some reports stating it is carcinogenic and that it has been linked with a medical condition called ochronosis (skin darkening and disfiguration) when applied topically.

Some of the side-effects of hydroquinone, as explained by Skinacea, include:

  • Increased exposure to UV radiation
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Increased risks of getting hyperpigmentation
  • Contact dermatitis and skin irritation
  • Thick, leathery, and bumpy skin

Another dermatologist, Dr Sushil Tahiliani, explained to TOI, that products containing hydroquinone should be used only if the doctor prescribes it. "If used excessively, this can lead to white spots, where the skin loses colour completely and can cause a condition called ochronosis, where the skin begins to develop dark patches," he told the publication.

However, some argue that when used in the right concentrations can be recognised as safe and effective. 

Apart from the bleaching agent hydroquinone, skin-lightening products may also contain other harmful ingredients like mercury and ammonia.

The skin-whitening products industry is said to be a multi-billion one with the Indian fairness cream industry alone being worth around $450m and one that is continuously growing.

The country's craze for fair skin is such that last year a drug used in the treatment of cancer, which has skin-lightening as a side-effect, turned into a rage, Hindustan Times reported.

This drug is Glutathione which is an anti-oxidant. 

As HT put it, "Glutathione’s ominous provenance hasn’t kept it from being a runaway success in India’s whitening revolution, and it is now far more popular as a skin-whitening agent than its original use in cancer drug regimens."

Maybe it is time for India to take cue from Ghana. 

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