I was being interviewed by a magazine a few days back about the role of fairness creams and their abuse in India and neighboring countries. I am sharing the answers given by me.Would really love to get your inputs.

Q.Can fairness creams really make one fairer ? Is it temporary or permanent?

 A.It should be noted that skin color is determined by the amount and type of melanin, the pigment in the skin. Whether you are fair or dark is dependent more on genetic rather than environmental causes. A fairness cream that has side effects can further damage your skin and remove the possibility of enhancing your skin tone.Time and again it has been proved in scientific journals that fairness creams do not make one fair. Here is what they can do --They may help maintain status quoThey may contain sunscreen which controls tanning. They may contain hydroquinone, a chemical that has a bleaching effect.However, fairness creams may also contain chemicals that can be harmful.

Q. If they do not make one fairer, on what basis do all these fairness creams promote their products?

A. Let's face it whether you call it a colonial hangover or plain obsession of getting fairer there is a huge demand for these products and all my reasoning falls onto deaf ears as far as intelligent and well meaning advice to my patients about complexion is concerned. Beauty pageant winners in India are all extraordinarily tall and breathtakingly slim, have light honey-colored skin, and peddle Western ideals of beauty.Advertisements aim to produce a hierarchy of values based on the notion that “fairness” is an object of desire.The reason why these companies are able to get away with these bogus claims are the well researched sales figures from these markets for these creams.Major markets for fairness creams are : India - is the largest market. Saudi Arabia,Gulf, Africa,Malaysia,Thailand,Far East.Other factors are 24 x 7 ad campaigns whose claims are never checked, these images of a fair girl/man getting a favorable response from the opposite sex, getting better prospective grooms/brides, getting better jobs, getting the respect of their peers etc. These adverts glare at you from the billboards, magazines, newspapers, television and whatever is left through radio channels.They create hype about their product. Many leading manufacturers have expanded their range to include lotions, cold creams, and soaps. Manufacturers of fairness creams advertise their products so aggressively that people really expect a radical change in their complexion. When that doesn’t happen, it’s a huge disappointment. The emotional turmoil is at times greater than the adverse physical effects of using fairness creams.Unsubstantiated claims made by so called beauty clinics (run by unqualified beauticians calling themselves "Doctors" which are run by industrialists calling themselves "Health Barons" whose only motive to be in this line is to maximize profits by hook or crook) These "Quacks" along with the self styled super homeopaths, ayurvedic experts and other so called natural healers (who claim a lot - but in any other part of the world would be on the wrong side of the law except in India) These people have further propagated these false hoods with which the young and the impressionable are swayed and go for these overpriced and sometimes dangerous medications - all in the name of getting fairer.There is no such thing as 100 per cent herbal. Herbal creams should be freshly made and should not have any preservatives or colorants for them to be truly herbal.Herbal creams have the same effect as other fairness creams since the fundamental process is the same — hindering the generation of melanin.This can lead to burning, itching and skin irritation.

Q.Do fairness creams contain bleaching agents? If yes, what damage can they cause to the skin?

A. With the plethora of products and brands available in the fairness cream market, the knowledge of the ingredients, their functions and impact can help consumers make an informed choice. Ingedients of fairness creams include : Hydroquinone --An effective whitening agent, but known to cause skin irritation. Normally used in fairness creams in very small concentration (less than 1 percent) Kojic Acid, a Vitamin C derivative with characteristics to block melanin production in the skin. Melanin is responsible for darkening the complexion. Retinoic Acid, a Vitamin A derivative which helps peel off the surface layers of skin, thereby getting rid of dark pigmented skin cells, is also used sometimes. In the process, the lower layers of the skin, which are somewhat lighter, come up to the surface.Plant extracts -- These which have mild whitening qualities such as liquorice, blackberry, mulberry, grapeseed etc. Steroids,Mercury salts,Bismuth subnitrate Hydrogen peroxide Magnesium peroxide Zinc peroxide.Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) Mixture of US FDA- and EU-approved UV-A and UV-B sunscreens. Ayurvedic herbs Fairness creams usually contain skin-bleaching agents such as hydroquinone, mercury salts, hydrogen peroxide, magnesium peroxide or zinc peroxide. All fairness creams have two to four per cent of hydroquinone. Continued exposure to this can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. A fairness cream inhibits the generation of melanin. But as soon as one stops applying the cream, the skin goes back to its original color and sometimes even becomes a shade darker. Hydroquinone can induce a pigmentation of its own where there is a deposit in the lower layer of the skin. This is known as ochronosis and the skin becomes bluish black in colour. Moreover, as the creams are not evenly applied on the face, they can lead to uneven pigmentation and a blotchy complexion. Dermatologists claim that there is no such thing as a fairness cream, certainly not without using skin-bleaching agents. Some ingredients used in many fairness creams can cause serious health hazards. Nephrotoxicity or Kidney damage. Mercury toxicity -- Mercury toxicity includes effects like metallic taste, increased thirst, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea, nephritis, decreased flow of urine, colitis or constipation, tremors, anemia, and skin problems. Mercury has adverse effects on the developing brain of a foetus. Experts say an estimated 40 percent of the users of the creams suffer from various skin abnormalities like facial hair growth, acne, skin thinning, increased skin aging, skin tanning, skin rash, pigmentation, contact allergy, or eczema even cancer.Long-term use of such creams can even lead to leucoderma. Cosmetic manufacturing companies do not declare the ingredients used in fairness creams under the guise of trade secrets. As they are registered under cosmetics license, they are not bound to disclose contents. There are hundreds of fairness products around the world, many of them illegally produced, which promise their users fairness but often end up destroying their skin and causing serious diseases like melanoma or skin cancer and kidney problems.

Posted by Dr.Rishi Parashar (www.RishiParashar.in)