Brown Skin Girl: Preserve your glow

“Brown skin girl
Skin just like pearls
Best thing in the world
I won’t trade you for anything”

These are popular lines from Beyonce’s song “brown skin girl” which celebrates the uniqueness of the darker skin tone.

Many people are conscious of their skin and this explains why the skincare industry is worth billions of dollars.

The skin is a target for so many beauty products and this includes skin lightening products.

Let’s get in…

Coke and Fanta are popular soft drinks in Nigeria. However, if someone calls you Coke and Fanta, people around will give you an extra stare or laugh because Coke and Fanta means that you have bleached your skin.

The Fanta stands for the lighter areas of the skin while the Coke are the darker patches of the skin often found on the elbows and at the back of the fingers. These areas of the skin are ‘tougher’ and more resistant to the lightening effects of the cream.

Skin lightening, or skin bleaching, is a cosmetic procedure that aims to lighten dark areas of skin or achieve a generally paler skin tone.

It’s usually used to improve the appearance of blemishes such as birthmarks and dark patches. Skin lightening agents work by reducing the melanin concentration in the skin.

The desire to lighten the skin was borne out of societal perception of beauty, lighter skinned people were considered more successful and more beautiful than people with darker skin.

From Asia to Africa, skin lightening still maintains a strong foothold.
A variety of artificial and natural products are used to lighten the skin. In some cases, a combination of two or more agents is used.

Some of these products have been found to cause health problems in the future and are best avoided.

MERCURY: Mercury or mercury salts cause skin lightening by reducing melanin formation. Melanin is the pigment responsible for skin colour. Little or no melanin formation results in a lighter skin tone.

Skin whitening products with mercury, (a highly poisonous substance), remain a serious threat to public health, especially to women. The main adverse effect of mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage.

Mercury may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as reduce the skin’s protection against infections. Other effects include: anxiety, depression or psychosis and nerve damage.

The amount of mercury in a product may be labelled on the packaging or in the ingredient list. Names to lookout for include: mercury, Hg, quicksilver, cinnabaris (mercury sulfide), mercury oxide and so on.

Directions on the packaging to avoid contact with silver, gold, rubber, aluminium and jewellery may also indicate the presence of mercury. However, companies selling products that contain mercury, do not always list it as an ingredient.

HYDROQUINONE: Hydroquinone is a component of many lightening creams because it reduces the formation of melanin. It may be used safely and effectively under the careful supervision of a dermatologist.

Common side effects include skin reactions like rashes and discoloration on areas of the skin exposed to the sun.

CORTICOSTEROIDS: Steroid containing creams are popular in Nigeria for reducing skin blemishes caused by acne but they are now being exploited for their side effect – skin lightening by people who want a lighter skin tone.

A study conducted in Nigeria revealed that the potent topical corticosteroids fluocinonide, betamethasone dipropionate and clobetasol propionate were the most commonly used agents.

With long-term use of topical steroids, the skin may develop permanent stretch marks (striae), bruising, discolouration, or thin spidery blood vessels (telangiectasias). Topical steroids may trigger or worsen other skin disorders.

Read labels. Ingredients such as mercury are extremely toxic and are not fit for use. If you want to lighten your skin, you should seek advice from a dermatologist. Be sure the benefit outweighs the risks!

Pharm. Mfonobong Nelson

CEO Fonz Naturals (Organic hair and skin brand)

Naidoo, Khoza and Dlova (2016). A Fairer Face, a Fairer Tomorrow? A Review of Skin Lighteners. Retrieved from
World Health Organization (2001). Preventing disease through healthy environments : Mercury in Skin lightening products. Retrieved from › ipcsPDF