Health Effects Associated with Skin Bleaching

Psychosocial motivations, behavioral patterns, and health effects of metal, hydroquinone, and steroid exposure associated with skin bleaching among African and Afro-Caribbean women in New York City

Skin bleaching practices, such as using skin creams and soaps to achieve a lighter skin tone, are common throughout the world, and are triggered by cosmetic reasons that oftentimes have deep historical, economic, sociocultural, and psychosocial roots. Exposure to chemicals in the bleaching products, notably, mercury (Hg), hydroquinone (HQ), and steroids, has been associated with a variety of adverse health effects, such as mercury poisoning and exogenous ochronosis.

In New York City (NYC), skin care product use has been identified as an important route of Hg exposure, especially among Caribbean-born blacks and Dominicans. However, surprisingly sparse information is available on the epidemiology of the health impacts of skin bleaching practices among these populations. This pilot project serves as the necessary initiation of a future research agenda to address the knowledge gaps surrounding skin bleaching practices and health outcomes among African and Afro-Caribbean women in NYC.

This year Bian Liu, PhD was awarded $25,000 to study a population with typical clinical presentations indicative of skin bleaching through reviews of the pathology database and medical charts of patients who visited the Skin of Color Center at Mount Sinai.

bian-liu“Detailed interviews will be conducted to explore skin practices (i.e., type and frequency of products used), self-reported health problems commonly resulting from skin bleaching, and psychosocial factors that may influence this behavior.”
– Bian Liu, PhD

Exposure assessment will be conducted based on laboratory measurement of metals, HQ, and steroids in skin bleaching products, and questionnaire responses. We expect a heterogeneous pattern of the skin bleaching practices; and hypothesize that chronic users are at a higher risk of having more severe symptoms.

Results from this pilot study will serve as preliminary data to obtain extramural funding for an in-depth investigation of the health effects of skin bleaching practices among non-White populations, and to identify effective and culturally sensitive strategies for intervention.