Masarrat Misbah warns against the use of toxic whitening creams

While highlighting the many harmful effects of using skin whitening creams, health and beauty experts at a briefing held on Thursday at the Karachi Press Club called upon the government to take action against the manufacturers of such products, many of which contained potent steroids and high concentration of toxic metals.

They also underlined the need for changing societal mindset of giving preference to fair complexion that often forced young girls and even boys to use such substandard creams.

“This problem has reached alarming levels and taken the form of an epidemic. Now, we are seeing girls belonging to the northern areas, who naturally have a fairer complexion, using such products and ruining their facial skin,” said Masarrat Misbah, a seasoned beautician heading an organisation working for the treatment and rehabilitation of acid-attack survivors.

Sharing her experience, Ms Misbah said that she came to know about these harmful creams some years ago when she saw their side-effects on faces of some girls getting treatment for burn injuries.

“Their skin condition had worsened,” she said, adding that often it’s the pressure of getting married that forced girls to use such poisonous creams.

“This problem has reached alarming levels and taken the form of an epidemic. Now, we are seeing girls belonging to the northern areas, who naturally have a fairer complexion, using such products and ruining their facial skin,” says Masarrat Misbah

According to her, the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), the national body for setting standards to ensure public health safety and implementing them, was approached over the issue but action in the form of regulation was still needed.

Citing some studies, she said that toxic metals like mercury penetrated into the skin and over time its higher accumulation in the body could damage heart and health of the foetus in case the woman applying such creams was pregnant.

The public, she pointed out, must educate itself on these creams before using them.

“The recent international media reports, exposing a number of Pakistan-made substandard skin whitening creams have damaged our country’s reputation. It’s a heinous crime and should be dealt with accordingly,” she observed.

Ibrar Hussain, part of the PSQCA committees as a private member and expert on food technology and cosmetics, said skin whitening creams had been found to be containing high levels of mercury, lead, arsenic, and hydroquinone (substances which are either internationally banned in cosmetics or have a limit if added) in local studies.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, he said, had never taken notice of this issue and no law existed in the country to ban the sale of harmful cosmetics.

Dr Mahwish Noorani, a specialist at the Sindh Institute of Skin Diseases in Saddar, said that she examined 12 to 15 cases daily involving patients whose skin was ruined following prolonged use of substandard whitening creams.

“They do get desired results but they last for a short period. Gradually, their skin becomes very sensitive, thin and develops pigmentation or acne. In some cases there is facial hair growth,” she said, adding that regular treatment was often ineffective in such patients as their skin had been exposed to potent steroids.

Dr Uzma Tiwana spoke of the emotional trauma girls went through after using such creams and said that it was high time that the issue was raised in the media and action taken.

“Besides, the amount patients spend on treatment later is much higher than what they spend on buying such creams,” she said.

Dr Tahira representing the PSQCA said the authority had recently made standards on skin whitening creams, but awaited approval from the ministries concerned to include the products in the mandatory list for monitoring.

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