Daily Monitor July 3. 2016
Many of the body lotions and creams sold openly in Uganda, contain dangerous chemicals, that can cause mental illness, cancer, and eventual death, writes Yonah Ahabwe
Recently, the Bureau of Statistics (UNBS) banned the importation and selling of cosmetics that have hydroquinone and mercury in them.
This was after research had proved that some of the components therein are harmful to the skin and can lead to skin infections.
UNBS made this decision after holding a series of meetings with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives, and the Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita) and Cosmetic Traders in a bid to wipe out the substandard cosmetics on the market and to set required standards in the sector, they agreed that some of the cosmetic products that contain these hydroquinone and mercury should be banned from importation and the Ugandan Market.
Richard Luyombya, the communications officer UNBS, said the ban is meant to ensure that the cosmetic products on the market conform to international standards.
“We will be carrying out an inspection effective next month to ensure that none of the products with hydroquinone and mercury are on the market,” Luyombya said.
He added that most countries around the world had already banned the use of these products and it is high time Uganda enforces the ban for the greater good.
What makes mercury poisoning from beauty products so scary?
Dr Stephen Bwesigye, a general practitioner at Mulago hospital says many symptoms arising from use of mercury-laced creams are non-specific and difficult to identify. He, however, pointed out the following, irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, numbness and tingling in the extremities, and tremors.
Using mercury started in the Elizabethan times where looking pale was seen as a sign of beauty and social standing for both men and women.
The World Health Organisation says using mercury over time can damage the kidneys and the nervous system.
It can also cause depression or psychosis and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children. The long term use of mercury on the skin has also been attributed to skin cancer, skin acne and in some cases the discoloration of the skin.
While research is still on going on the full extent of health risks hydroquinone and mercury causes, health experts ally it to toxicity of cells, formation of cancer cells. It is also believed to increase the risk of complications such as thyroid disorders, liver disease and adrenal dysfunction.
Dr Edwig Nagabirwa a dermatologist says hydroquinone on the other hand is an aromatic organic compound that is a type of phenol, a derivative of benzene used as topical application in skin whitening.
He says hydroquinone is used in skin lightening creams and lotions because it is an effective bleaching agent it slows the production of melanin in the body.
Dr Nagabirwa cautions, “if used for extended periods of time, hydroquinone can sometimes induce a condition known as “ochronosis.” People with ochronosis can show a blue-black darkening in certain areas of the skin. Like other pigment-reducing complexes; hydroquinone can make your skin more susceptible to the sun rays. This can lead to serious sunburn and an increased risk to skin cancer.
How to protect yourself
Dr Nagabirwa says when buying creams, one should always check the ingredients on your beauty products, and stay away from anything containing the following ingredients: mercury, mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, and mercurio.
Brenda Mukisa, a beautician and nutritionist at Brenda’s Beauty World, urges the women to watch their diet and to maintain a clear skin. “To have a smooth skin, you should avoid eating oily foods. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are nutritious and good for the skin.”
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked its approval of hydroquinone and proposed a ban after research showed that hydroquinone is a potential carcinogen.
It is therefore advisable to read labels on cosmetic products and be able to identify and avoid products with ingredients like mercurous chloride, mercuric, mercurio among others.
If there is no label indicating what is in the products please do not attempt to buy that product.
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