The use of bleaching pills and products among pregnant people

While there are different cases of skin cancer and congenital disabilities in babies and infants, there are claims that some pregnant people take bleaching pills, hoping their babies will be born with light skin.

Black pregnant mother consulting her gynecologist

The world seems to have gone past the use of bleaching creams to bleaching pills for a child yet to be born.

More people put in extra effort to gain almost every feature they desire - talk of bigger butts, bigger breast size, pointed nose, nicer dentition layout, among others.

This should not be a problem if there are little or no health risks involved. However, it becomes a public health concern when any of such cosmetic procedures poses great harm to the health, especially that of a baby.

There have been different reports of bleaching among Africans and other ethnic groups with Black or Colored skin. A 2019 study noted that skin bleaching is a common practice among Africans and Afro-Caribbeans living in New York city. The study added that about 13.2% of the participants used bleaching products while pregnant or breastfeeding.

The fact that prenatal and postnatal exposure to bleaching pills and products that contain hydroquinone and mercury highlights the urgent need to study the side effects of skin bleaching activities on the neurodevelopment and growth of young babies and infants.

Prevalence of skin bleaching among Africans

An article in Radiant Health Magazine reported that not less than 75% of Nigerian women use skin bleaching creams or products.

A study published in the West African Journal of Medicine showed that the use of skin bleaching creams had gained wide acceptance. It is practised by both male and female genders in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos State.

Photo source: Shutterstock

Four hundred and fifty traders were selected for this study, and the result showed a 77.3% prevalence of use of skin bleaching creams. Females made up 72.4% of skin bleaching product users, while males made up the remaining 27.6%.

Hydroquinone-based products sell well for women in Africa. A 2016 report by The New York Times showed that about 70% of West African women use skin bleaching or lightening creams.

Nowadays, mercury-based products and cortico-steroids are also widely used in skin bleaching.

The women are hopeful that they will evade the side effects of skin bleaching, which includes skin cancer, kidney failure, hyperpigmentation and even birth defects in babies, while reaping the supposed good side, which is 'light skin'.

An article published on The Conversation, calls this habitual act "the bleaching syndrome". The article highlights three main components of the bleaching syndrome:

  • The psychological aspect (involves self-rejection of dark skin)
  • Sociological aspect (influences behaviour of the society)
  • Physiological aspect (altering other parts of the body to fit in with the dominant group)

Cultural interventions need to be implemented to improve behavioral change among Black people or people of colour.

Pregnant women also use bleaching pills for their unborn babies

Some pregnant people don't even wait anymore for the baby to be out before commencing the cosmetic changes.

An article published on Blavity said, "pregnant women in Ghana are now taking skin bleaching pills for their unborn babies, and that's a problem".

Ghana's Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) had issued a warning to pregnant women who were taking skin bleaching pills during pregnancy in a bid to lighten the skin of their babies.

According to the FDA, using skin bleaching glutathione pills has become a growing trend amongst pregnant women.

The FDA further asserted that the pills are illegal and can cause health complications such as skin cancer, birth defects and damage to the babies internal organs and limbs.

It is evident that ads throughout Africa promote lighter skin; hence mothers do not want their babies to lose out on what it seems the society finds appealing.

Is there an approved skin bleaching pill for unborn babies?

Health experts greatly frown upon the use of bleaching creams and products by adults to lighten the skin; how much more the use of such products for an unborn baby?

Note that:

There is no safe or approved pill capable of lightening a baby's skin inside the womb.

In a statement released to the BBC, the FDA clearly stated that it wants "the general public to know that no product has been approved by the FDA in the form of a tablet to lighten the skin of an unborn child".

Side effects of using bleaching pills or creams

The side effects of using skin bleaching creams and products for adults are numerous.

Photo source: Shutterstock

Studies in this area have shown that skin bleaching can cause skin discolouration, skin cancer, rashes and kidney damage in adults.

Skin bleaching creams and pills act to disrupt the synthesis and production of melanin. Melanin is the skin's natural pigment. It is the pigment that gives our skin, hair and eyes their colour.

Africans typically make more melanin than Whites, giving them (Africans) the characteristic dark skin. Melanin production is a good thing as it helps protect humans from the UV rays of the sun.

The use of bleaching pills by pregnant women is risky and poses harm to unborn babies. Instead of making the child's life better, it can hinder the child's chance of enjoying a better quality of life.

If you are thinking of taking bleaching pills for your baby, you may want to reconsider as bleaching pills and other bleaching products can cause skin cancer, birth defects, limb deformities and damage of the babies internal organs. Health experts also discourage its use both in the prenatal and postnatal phase.