Skin Lightening Creams Putting Many at Risk

Dermatologists say they are seeing more and more women of Hispanic and African descent suffering from complications related to the use of <"">skin lightening creams. According to an article in The New York Times, these skin lightening creams often contain powerful steroids and other dangerous ingredients, and are sold over-the-counter – often illegally – at bodegas, ethnic beauty supply stores and online.

Some of these skin lightening creams, including Hyprogel, made in Germany, contain the powerful steroid clobetasol propionate and includes a warning to use only as directed by a doctor. Fair & White, from France, normally contains no steroids, but counterfeit versions with undisclosed ingredients have turned up in stores, the Times said.

One dermatologist told the Times that clobetasol propionate is the most potent topical steroid used in dermatology, and there are no indications for using it on the face. Still, prescription creams made with the steroid were being sold over-the-counter for as little as $3.99 in some stores in Brooklyn, the Times said.

Complications from using clobetasol propionate over the long-term can include hypertension, elevated blood sugar and suppression of the body’s natural steroids.

Another ingredient found in many skin lightening creams is hydroquinone, which at strengths of 4 percent is prescribed for short-term use to lighten skin blemishes. According to The New York Times, over-the-counter versions of “Fair & White” only contain 1.9 percent hydroquinone. However, bootleg versions are available that have as much as 5 percent.

Dr. David McDaniel, a dermatologist in Virginia Beach and a director of the Skin of Color Research Institute at Hampton University, told the Times that consumers should not believe that ingredient listings on skin lightening products are truthful.

The misuse of hydroquinone can actually discolor the skin, leading to a blue-black darkening. The use of hydroquinone is banned in England and France, but only restricted in the U.S. According to the Times, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been considering a ban on over-the-counter sales of hydroquinone since 2006.

As for clobetasol propionate, the FDA would not say if it was planning on taking action to stop illegal sales, saying it doesn’t discuss enforcement actions as a matter of policy.

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