Skin Bleaching in Sierra Leone.....A Bundle of Medical Complications

13 February 2009 at 03:52 | 1605 views

By Teddy Foday-Musa, Freetown.

I am a Sierra Leonean by birth and nationality. I have lived abroad and recently went back home as a volunteer expatriate for a three month assignment. I was attached to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security. My volunteer expatriate services were geared toward enhancing modern technological communication skills within the ministry and amongst its agricultural partners and stake-holders.

I was not only curious to deliver my services to the best of my ability to my native country Mama SaLeone, but also concerned about how Sierra Leoneans carry themselves around and meet the challenges of social and moral uprightness within our society more so in this period of a post war situation. Their physical appearance and display of attitude all came under my close observation during my stay.

However, one thing that caught my attention with abysmal dissatisfaction is the rate at which skin bleaching within our Sierra Leonean society has been propelled to its highest peak. Skin bleaching is not only a disgrace to our true African identity, but also a bundle of medical complications that are prone to skin cancer the old-age killer disease. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century, when the challenge should be food, shelter and security equals to development, instead, Sierra Leoneans have chosen to packet and market themselves as products and candidates of skin cancer a unique killer disease.

Skin bleaching in Sierra Leone, has now become an added symbol and flavour to the so-called “beauty” of our teenage girls and adult women. Most of them are now like a living corps, walking around and only awaiting to be awarded the fatal price from skin cancer the killer disease. Our Sierra Leonean men who bank-roll this exercise, are now sick and tired of the financial burden. But the irony here is that, these same men continue to lay their choice on women with lighter skin thus promoting them towards their own untimely death in the hands of cancer.

We should not forget the fact that Sub-Saharan Africans, a group to whom Sierra Leoneans belong, were created by God almighty in order to withstand the climatic conditions of their tropical environment. The dark colour of our skin and the curly black hair are all preventive attributes given to us by God in order to survive the harsh climatic conditions of our tropical environment.

Naturally, our skin has three layers which are as follows; the outside (top), the middle and the lower. The outside layer is also referred to as the epidermis layer. This epidermis layer contains a certain thickness of elasticity that serves as a protective layer over our skin against natural reactions like the ray of our hot burning tropical sun. It also serves as a protective layer over the middle skin layer which contains our blood vessels, nerves and courteous layers with fat for our healthy existence and survival.

The normal operational functions of our blood vessels and nerves within the middle skin layer are enhanced by the strong elasticity and thickness of the top skin layer or the epidermis. Therefore, it is advisable that we prevent our top skin (epidermis layer) from under going any skin lightening process which will reduce its thickness and handicap it protective role as a barrier to infections, irritants and even skin cancer.

Today, in Sierra Leonean, the protective epidermis skin layer of most girls and women has been damaged and destroyed by the use of tropical steroids. This exercise is commonly known as “Bleaching”. Victims are in frequent use of potent creams, ointments and gels like, skin light, all of which falls under the category of tropical steroids. These tropical steroids contain high content of HYDROCORTISONE and HYDROQUIOLONE which speedily helps in damaging the upper layer skin (epidermis) by making the upper skin layer lighter, thus making their blood vessels and nerves prone to skin cancer the killer diseases.

Medically you are only advised to apply these tropical steroids with a mild percentage content of 1% hydrocortisone. Our top skin layer or the epidermis contains the protective melanin which is what albinos (juice) lack and as a result get the skin burn reaction on their skin with small hyper pigmented, pedunculated papules on their faces and all over their bodies. Therefore, it is no surprise when victims of skin bleaching produces reactions on their skins like striae which are due to loss dermal collagen and are likely to be permanent even after discontinuation.

The medical complication of skin bleaching is enormous but all tied around being prone to getting skin cancer the old-age killer disease. There is also the medical complication of not being able to under go a surgical operation in order to save your life. Speaking to one surgical doctor at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, he told me that stitching the skin of those who do skin bleaching have always proved difficult or even not possible, which has normally led to most of them loosing their lives. He also told me that those who survived the stitching of their extra lighter skin are faced with the problem of skin healing after the exercise. And in most cases, the surgical wound easily becomes bacteria affected and stays with them longer than expected.

It is also medically stated that the use of tropical steroids with more than 1% of hydrocortisone more so on the face, will result in Perioral dermatitis. Figure one below is a photo of Perioral dermatitis. Perioral dermatitis is a rash around the mouth, made up of small papules and vesicles, which spares the area immediately around the lips. The only treatment for it is to stop or discontinue the use of the tropical steroid. The rash will then resolve but it may take several months. Oral tetracycline 250mgbd (on an empty stomach) for six weeks may speed up its resolution.

Telangiectasia is also another medical complication manifested by the use of tropical steroids. This telangiectasia appears on the cheek of our face like hyper pigmented, pedunclated papules. This happens when tropical steroid stronger than 1% hydrocortisone is applied to the face of adults over the age of 30 years. The application of this potent steroid will lead to telangiectasia, and later tearing of the skin and scarring. Figure two below is an effect photo of Telangiectasia. There are also general medical complications of our skin tearing up leading to odd shaped scars (stellate scars) due to loss of dermal collagen.

It is against this back drop of medical complications around skin bleaching that I call on my fellow compatriots to kindly abandon this act of skin bleaching and help in preparing their skins to return to the usual healthy medical state of condition it used to be. I am very much aware that Sierra Leonean ladies even abroad (Diaspora) are engaged in this skin bleaching. They are also included in my plea for their own safety in the hands of skin cancer.

Most European countries like The Netherlands have come up with statuary regulations approved by their parliament (tweede kammer) for all tropical steroids both mild and potent to be declared in their markets as illegal. Today, an entry ban on these tropical steroids in The Netherlands has been put into effect. That was a government action designed to save the lives of African migrants who are victims of skin bleaching, based on the medical advice they received from their own dermatologists (Skin-Doctors).

However, if at all it is difficulty for you to stay away from this bleaching exercise, then I will recommend that you always contact a dermatologist (Skin Doctor) who will provide you the necessary medical advice and ascertain the content rate of hydroquiolone in your chosen tropical steroid before application on your skin. Dermatologist Doctor Vandy at ECOWAS street is ready to render his assistance along this line. He was very helpful to me in compiling this needed medical and clinical information required for the publication of this article.

E-mail: tfodaymusa@yahoo.ca