Just before Christmas I was alerted to an article run on SKY NEWS in the UK reporting of an illegal trade in skin lightening products containing a chemical called Clobetasol Propionate. This weird ‘medical’ sounding ingredient is just that, a medicine that should never be used without a prescription! The fact that a number of small cosmetic brands were adding this to their skin brightening and whitening formulations rang those alarm bells loud and clear, especially as these creams were destined to be used on the faces and chests of the unsuspecting public.

Uneven Pigmentation. The white marks are where skin trauma has caused scarring and permanent damage. This can happen if skin whitening products are used excessively.

Clobetasol Propionate is a steroid cream with superior potency.  It is usually used to help calm down super-itchy skin conditions that are not being managed by the lesser-active over-the-counter hydrocortisones.  Now I’m neither a pharmacist or a doctor but I am a life-long eczema sufferer and so know from first hand experience that these things can be seriously damaging when mis-used.

Cortisone chemicals have a tendency to thin the skin which has all kinds of ramifications including a greater likelihood of physical trauma including permanent damage,  sensitivity to chemical and environmental factors, pigmentation issues, increased risk of sun burn and other unpleasantries.

In the world of dermatology creams like this are used under strict guidance and the patients progress and tolerance of the product is closely monitored so that the minimum exposure is used to bring the patient back to a more manageable state while avoiding or limiting any side-effects.  So, the prospect of being able to buy what you think is a ‘cosmetic’ cream to use as you please, for as long as it takes your fancy is bad news indeed!

Lighter, brighter skin continues to be desirable both as part of an anti-ageing regimen and as a way to emulate the lighter complexions of Bollywood actors and as such, the global market for skin brightening products is booming.  However, there is a huge difference between ‘cosmetic’ brightening and that achieved through prescription only products such as that above.

Cosmetic brighteners may contain a number of actives that work either physically or chemically to even out the skins appearance. Products containing  AHA’s and Papaya enzymes  tend to work at the surface to slough off (exfoliate) dead and pigmented skin cells give the skin an instant bright and fresh look while remaining relatively safe and effective.   A step up from that are products containing ingredients such as Bearberry Extract,  Sodium or Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate and resveratrol which get into the skin and turn down melanin production so that over time, pigmented skin appears lighter.

At the interface of cosmetics and medicine are products that use Retinol and Hydroquinone.  There are strict laws surrounding the use of these actives and what results can be claimed in cosmetic formulations in order to protect the public from adverse effects.  These actives both turn off  melanin production very efficiently but over-use can cause some serious side effects and permanent skin damage so again, they should be used with caution.

Overall, the skin is pigmented for a very good reason and so any attempt to interfere with nature should be done cautiously and respectfully.  A general rule of thumb should be that if a product looks too good to be true it probably is,  all cosmetics sold in the UK should have their full ingredients listed on the packaging and my advise would be to either take your product to a pharmacist and get them to look over the ingredients list before using it or check out the ingredients on a reputable site such as the European Unions COSING database. 

As far as this news story goes, the people behind these products were clearly breaking a number of laws and if caught will most likely be prosecuted.  However, it’s the people who have been loyally using  products such as these that may have to face up to the fact that life in future could be spent hiding away from the sun in an attempt to prevent any further damage to their now fragile skin.

Take care, ask questions and why not just love your skin, naturally.

PS: The above is my skin. The white marks are where I’ve had repeated trauma caused by acne that has left the pigmentation in the skin damaged.  Even in fairly light skin the difference in colour is noticeable and on darker skin this may look even more pronounced.