Apr 11, 2011

Reggae Artists Vybz Kartel recently caused a stir when he bleached his skin
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Mikeisha Simpson covers her body in greasy white cream and bundles up in a track suit to avoid the fierce sun of her native Jamaica, but she's not worried about skin cancer.

The 23-year-old resident of a Kingston ghetto hopes to transform her dark complexion to a cafe-au-lait-color common among Jamaica's elite and favored by many men in her neighborhood. She believes a fairer skin could be her ticket to a better life. So she spends her meager savings on cheap black-market concoctions that promise to lighten her pigment.

Simpson and her friends ultimately shrug off public health campaigns and reggae hits blasting the reckless practice.

"I hear the people that say bleaching is bad, but I'll still do it. I won't stop 'cause I like it and I know how to do it safe," said Simpson, her young daughter bouncing on her hip.

People around the world often try to alter their skin color, using tanning salons or dyes to darken it or other chemicals to lighten it. In the gritty slums of Jamaica, doctors say the skin lightening phenomenon has reached dangerous proportions.

"I know of one woman who started to bleach her baby. She got very annoyed with me when I told her to stop immediately, and she left my office. I often wonder what became of that baby," said Neil Persadsingh, a leading Jamaican dermatologist.

Most Jamaican bleachers use over-the-counter creams, many of them knockoffs imported from West Africa. Long-term use of one of the ingredients, hydroquinone, has long been linked to a disfiguring condition called ochronosis that causes a splotchy darkening of the skin. Doctors say abuse of bleaching lotions has also left a web of stretch marks across some Jamaicans' faces.

In Japan, the European Union, and Australia, hydroquinone has been removed from over-the-counter skin products and substituted with other chemicals due to concerns about health risks. In the U.S., over-the-counter creams containing up to 2 percent hydroquinone are recognized as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A proposed ban by the FDA in 2006 fizzled.

Lightening creams are not effectively regulated in Jamaica, where even roadside vendors sell tubes and plastic bags of powders and ointments from cardboard boxes stacked along sidewalks in market districts.

"Many of the tubes are unlabeled as to their actual ingredients," said Dr. Richard Desnoes, president of the Dermatology Association of Jamaica.

Hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments smuggled into the Caribbean country that contain toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which give skin its color, but can also be toxic.



  1. I was walking past cosmetic counters in the mall the other day and noticed that Fashion Fair had a skin bleaching cream. WTH!! There must be a huge market for it for Ebony to sell such a thing. Just awful...

  2. This is indeed a sad state of affairs, especially for young people of Color here in America and abroad. In 2011, the message still continues to be "if you're *light* OR *white* you're right." "You'll have an easier time of it in life."

    IMO, it's *self-identity* madness to the 10th degree! So many people willing to risk their lives_and, in some cases, even that of their child/children_bathing in bleach in order to PRETEND they're a lighter Color..smh.

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  5. These bleaching creams are very popular in the black community. This topic was actually featured in Tyra's TV show. It's truly devastating. These people should read more skin care reviews and be educated about the dangers of what they are doing.

  6. I'm all into cosmetic surgery, but to bleach your skin and somehow "change" your race is a bit beyond me.

    cosmetic surgery perth

  7. This is really surprising, they should only go to trusted surgeons.