Skin lightening horror


Several celebrities including Khanyi Mbau, Kelly Khumalo and Mshoza have apparently resorted to skin whitening. But a skin therapist says she’s treating up to 20 patients a month who have damaged their skin by using illegal bleaching products.

Pretoria skin therapist Lethlogonolo Tsikang this week revealed the shocking extent of the damage caused by the cheap products widely bought from street vendors.

Tsikang, who works for Pat Skin Health and Beauty, said the growing number of women suffering from the negative effects of skin bleaching products was concerning.

“The usage of the cheap skin lighteners may result in the skin becoming dependent on the product, with the skin becoming burnt, forming dry scales looking even darker than before.

“Common areas that are affected include the forehead, cheeks, eyelids, hands and feet. These areas are left with thinner layers of deteriorated skin vulnerable to infections, acne and poor wound healing,” she said.

Tsikang warned women and even men to be wary of the harmful skin lighteners sold on the streets as they were not regulated, adding that this could cause irreparable damage to the skin and even skin cancer.

A 47-year-old woman from Mpumalanga fell victim to the idea of a lighter version of herself and has had to pay more than R5000 to repair the damage caused by skin lighteners.

The woman said: “After using it I would start to get black patches on my cheeks as a result of sun exposure. I noticed that my skin got thinner and the veins on my face became more visible.”

The New Age team this week went to Pretoria and the Johannesburg CBD posing as customers.

They found vendors selling the skin damaging products at their stalls without fear of arrest.

Vendor stalls were flooded with skin lighteners like Extra Claire, Bio-Claire, Caro Light, Carotene, Perfect White and ClaireMen (for men)with prices ranging from R35 for a 120ml dosage and up to R80 for 500ml.

Most of the skin lighteners were made in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and vendors claimed that results could be seen within a week.

Lindiwe, a street vendor who sells on Lillian Ngoyi Street in the Pretoria CBD, even complained that business was slow because there were just too many of them selling the same products.

“As you can see there is a stall on every street corner selling the same products as me,” she said.

Seemingly oblivious to the danger, Lindiwe defended her products which she claimed to have been using for more than 20 years with no negative side effects.

Nonhlanhla Khumalo, head of dermatology at the University of Cape Town who has done extensive research on skin bleaching, warned that dangerous substances such as mercury and hydroquinone that could damage the skin were found in some of the products.

“These ingredients when absorbed by the skin into the blood stream can result in chronic poisoning. Continuous use of such products is said to speed up the aging process and in worst cases may result in ochronosis (untreatable skin discolouration) and skin cancer,” Khumalo said.

Skin bleaching was trending this week on Twitter when users posted images of radio and TV star Khanyi Mbau bleached to a pink version of herself.

Mbau, who has more than 1 million followers on Twitter, yesterday said she could not take responsibility for younger fans who might want to imitate her.

“If the youth choose to make uninformed decisions about their health and well-being I cannot be held accountable. For every decision one makes, they need to be aware of each and every repercussion.

“So no, when I make personal choices it’s not based on the public but my personal need,” she said when asked if her actions would encourage those who followed her. More affluent skin bleachers use safer and more expensive products.

A Bedfordview shop that caters for the well-heeled has products that range from R950 for a single dosage and R1500 for a double dosage.