UKZN’s College of Health Sciences’ Dermatology Department, together with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health (DoH), took to the streets of Durban to highlight the dangers of illegal skin bleaching.
Head of the Dermatology Department, Professor Ncoza Dlova, along with DoH’s Dr Jimmy Mthethwa led an awareness march that also aimed to encourage particularly young people to love and embrace their natural skin colour.
The Department, together with UKZN and other stakeholders, marched from the Berea Christian Centre to Gugu Dlamini Park to launch a campaign to create awareness about the dangers of using illegal skin bleaching products.
Dlova said through research they had found that 90% of consumers of skin lightening products are not aware of the side effects of skin bleaching.
‘We are saying to the Department of Health that education and empowerment of consumers is crucial, and we need to start including basic education about skin and hair care from an early age in primary schools and high schools. We are appealing to the police and Department of Trade and Industry to take action and enforce the current existing legislation and rules on the sale of cosmetics, and make sure that our borders are not porous. Some of these illegal creams should not come into the country,’ she said.
DoH’s Mthethwa said the Department wants to ‘stop the epidemic which is fast becoming a burden on public health.’
KZN DoH members and other guest speakers, including affected patients, gave their testimonies. They addressed hundreds of health professionals, students and members of the public at the park.
The march was also intended to make people aware of the list of banned ingredients such as mercury, cortico steroids, phenols and hydroquinone that are found in over-the-counter cosmetic products.
Dlova said there were numerous psycho-socio-political factors in play when people used skin-lighteners. They resulted in people resorting to treatments which often have irreversible complications.
‘There’s a perception that if you are lighter, then you are more attractive and your chances of getting married or getting a job are higher. Amongst the Indian community there is an obsession with being lighter and this is well documented in the literature and our own research experience. There is still a caste system and colour bias when it comes to finding a marriage partner. So all these perceptions should be dispelled,’ she said.
According to Dlova, there’s been an increase in the number of people using skin lightening treatments in the last five to seven years.
‘The issue of intravenous glutathione for skin whitening is even more scary,’ she said. ‘Steps are being taken to address this with the regulatory bodies in an attempt to ban the use of this compound in South Africa. If we do not translate our research results to the consumers to change practice and policy as well as inform the public, it becomes a challenge, as consumers do not have access to the scientific journals which we publish in,’ said Dlova.