Skin-bleaching creams growing in popularity, but not in safety, doctors say

Skin-lightening soaps and creams are becoming a multi-billion dollar industry. (Photo: Flickr/sophiakristina)

Vic Jagger, dubbed "The Radio Vixen" for her role on the nationally-syndicated Russ Parr Morning Show, says its "sad."

Reggae artist Vybz Kartel claimed it would make him more popular.

And dermatologists say doing it can be extremely harmful and cause permanent damage to your body.

Despite the wide range in viewpoints, nearly all of them agree that the obsession for darker-skinned black people to become lighter is growing.

A 2010 report by Global Industry Analysts says that the bleaching cream market, which includes numerous products that go a long way toward making your skin lighter, could reach $10 billion by as soon as 2015. The report also says that the huge increase in skin bleaching is being driven not just by new markets in the United States, but continued growth in Europe, Africa and Asia.

However, Dr. Beverly Johnson, a dermatologist who practices in the District, says that many over-the-counter bleaching products are bootlegged.

"They are powerful, fluorinated steroids," Dr. Johnson says. "They are the highest level of potency of a cream that you can get."

Johnson says that many popular products are not even FDA regulated are are made "with no regard for safety."

"They will make your skin lighter, as well as do other things," Johnson says.

A report from the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog group, says that in a test of 25 skin bleaching products, 19 of them came back with toxic levels of mercury. This past August, the Food and Drug Administration banned 23 skin bleaching products because they had toxic levels of dangerous chemicals..

However, the fear of damaged skin isn't enough to scare some, including Kartel, a popular Jamaican dance hall musician who bleached his skin.

"This is my new image," Kartel said in an interview with Rolling Out in January, shortly after releasing his own line of skin-whitening products. "It's tantamount to white people getting a sun tan."

But Jagger says that it's said that anyone would believe complexion is more valuable to success than talent, appearance or ability.

"You can't let...rappers or celebrities define who you are," Jagger says." "You are not defined by your skin color."

However, Jagger says she has seen instances where lighter-skinned black people are treated differently than darker-skinned people.

"I've been outside of a club and they will let the light-skinned girls go and the dark-skinned girls will be standing there," Jagger says.

For more, check out the FDA's drug website.