Rub it out
Nadisha Hunter, Gleaner Writers
A senior Ministry of Health official declared yesterday it would be redoubling its efforts to address the local skin-bleaching phenomenon by stepping up its education programmes as well as instituting stricter enforcement of regulations aimed at clamping down on illegal creams and other skin-fading products.
Dr Eva Lewis-Fuller, director of health promotion and protection, said though the ministry's 2007 campaign heightened awareness and knowledge about the dangers of using bleaching products, it was clear many Jamaicans remain involved in the practice.
Lewis-Fuller noted, however, that no baseline study or post-campaign evaluation has been done so she was not able to accurately measure the results of the project.
"We think that the knowledge on it was increased because more persons spoke about the effects and even those who persisted in bleaching, the feedback we got from general practitioners, is that they knew the effects but they chose to continue," she told The Gleaner yesterday.
"So (the campaign) increased knowledge and awareness but the practice is extremely difficult to change, so we need to work harder on that."
Lewis-Fuller said the ministry would be rolling out a second campaign, but no timeline has yet been set for that effort to get under way.
"We need to step up our education as well as step up the enforcement of regulations which would prevent persons getting these strong steroid creams into their hands for everyday use," she stressed.
The Ministry of Health, through its Standards and Regulation Division had launched its anti-skin bleaching campaign to rid the streets of the illegal products, which include prescription items.
"We are concerned because we have seen the damage done to the skin and we have seen where persons are absorbing enough, because they use it over such a widespread area of their skin, that they are coming down with things like high blood pressure," the health official lamented. "It is affecting their kidneys and it may start giving them problems with their eyes."
Blood vessel damage
Lewis-Fuller warned that the steroids cause stretch marks, variegation (multi-coloured skin) and cuts that are not easily healed as the blood vessels might be damaged by the chemicals used.
She said, based on the Pharmacy Act, some of the products being used should not be sold without prescriptions, and the ministry will be launching an investigation in order to find the loopholes in the system.
Lewis-Fuller also warned that though it is not a bleaching agent, the developing popularity of cake soap poses a danger as well as it depletes the skin of its natural oils.
"That is not very good to deplete the skin repeatedly of the natural oil," she said. "Your skin will eventually age faster and you start seeing wrinkles earlier."
The health official, referencing dancehall culture and the open admission by persons that they are involved in skin-lightening activity, said it was a societal problem which would affect the youth and requires a multi-agency solution.
"We have seen the effects and we would love for young people to realise that this will have serious repercussions on their health," she said.
In the meantime, dancehall entertainer Vybz Kartel, who has for some time been embroiled in controversy over the visible lightening of his skin and his admitted use of 'cake soap', said he would not rebuff the ministry's claims about the medical effects of bleaching.
"Bleaching is deemed unhealthy by the ministry and I wouldn't say 'yes' or 'no' because I haven't done my personal survey into the health risk," Kartel told The Gleaner yesterday. "But to each his own and we are living in a free society whereby anyone can do whatever they feel like as long as it is within the law."
In responding to Lewis-Fuller's claim that cake soap cannot lighten the skin, Kartel said the cake soap he references in his music, and which is responsible for his changing appearance, is his personal soap which he is planning to release on the local market soon.