(Whitening Products are being sold on a cosmetic store in Melbourne’s CBD. Photo: Jiali Fan)
By Jiali Fan
Dangerous products including skin whitening, skin lightening, and skin bleaching are “widely used” within Asian and African communities in Australia, and should be more tightly regulated, a Melbourne skin cancer physician said.
Dr Jessica Maher from Australian Skin Cancer Clinics said such products use chemical substances in an attempt to lighten skin tone or provide an even skin complexion by reducing the melanin concentration in the skin.
“Most creams sold in the market are a dangerous cocktail of compounds and the long-term use of which can lead to lethal health concerns likes skin cancer, permanent pigmentation, liver damage and mercury poisoning,” she said.
“What I know is some girls start to use these products at a really young age, even their parents encourage them to use it.”
The use of whitening products can also cause psychological harm, according to the behavior scientist.
Dr Irina Elliott, unit leader for psychology at Monash College, said that low self-esteem and to some degree self-hate are a common theme for people who use these products.
According to reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, there are up to 59 per cent of women surveyed in African and Asian communities used skin lighteners.
“Many people of color lighten skin in order to fit within the larger society’s definition of beauty and even they associate it with success, prestige and envy,”Dr Elliott said.
She said that there is a wrong belief that light-complexioned people are more beautiful and acceptable, and over time people who are dark complexioned who have internalized this perception tend to lighten their skin to improve their sense of self-worth.
Jennifer Forson, the Secretary of the African Community and Cultural Association of Victoria, said many African Australian women and men use these products mostly due to the social pressures created by the media, celebrities and advertising.
The media images portraying white people as beautiful greatly influenced their decision to whiten their own skin, Ms Forson said, referring to the celebrity Emma Watson who was criticized for appearing in a Lancôme advertisement for a skin whitening product.
These products “do not always reflect the diverse beauty of all women”, Ms Watson said.
A report by the Australian Health Minister’s Advisory Council found, a large number of cosmetic products being offered by non-registered practitioners are being advertised through various social media platforms.
The report stated that such products are not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) and that selling them through social media was unlawful and dangerous.
Dr Maher said that she hopes that one day the authorities will do more to regulate whitening products as these products can be bought at any counter “without prescription”.
She said that many long term users of fairness creams came to her clinic with a difficult-to-treat condition.
But she expressed concern that no amount of official bans or public information campaigns will stop people risking serious damage to their health in the pursuit of what they think is beauty.