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Step inside most of the mini marts in Dubai apartment blocks and nestled on the shelves alongside drinks, snacks and toiletries, you’re likely to find several brands of skin-whitening cream. Making your skin tone lighter is evidently commonplace.

Dr Anwar Al Hammadi, Head of Dermatology Department, Dubai Health Authority (DHA), treats his patients with skin whitening but he believes there should be a medical necessity. 

“From a medical point of view, skin whitening is necessary for conditions such as melisma, which is a pigmentation of the skin that is common in women during pregnancy. People who also have pigmentation following pimples or a rash may also require medical treatment with whitening.”

Excessive whitening

Dr Al Hammadi refers to an ingredient called hydroquinone that is commonly found in whitening products. “The ingredients in the whitening creams we prescribe contain 4 per cent hydroquinone. 

“The overuse of hydroquinone can cause a reaction where instead of whitening, the cream can cause pigmentation. This is quite common. It is not recommended to use these creams for long periods without medical supervision.”

Whitening injections

Some private clinics in Dubai offer injections for skin whitening that contain glutathione, which is an antioxidant. When taken in high doses, glutathione can have the effect of skin whitening. However, Dr Al Hammadi urges people to be wary of such treatments. 

“When people mention injections I always tell them that it is not wise to improve your skin outside while causing harmful effects on your internal organs, such as your liver or kidneys.”

Potent topical steroid creams used to treat eczema are also used by some people to lighten their skin but Dr Al Hammadi warns that such solutions come with complications. “They do whiten the skin but this is the kind of whitening that is a side effect.” 

He refers to Michael Jackson’s changing skin, where his colour changed from black to an almost translucent white. Most probably, Jackson altered his skin to match areas where he suffered a loss of colour pigmentation caused by the condition vitiligo. 

Dr Al Hammadi makes this comparison with using eczema drugs to lighten your skin. “It is more like a vitiligo whitening caused by thinning of the skin, increased visibility of blood vessels and increased hair growth in certain areas such as the face. It can also cause stretch marks, especially in thin areas of the skin such as the armpits.”

Love the skin you’re in

If you are planning to whiten your skin, DHA suggests you seek medical advice first, particularly if you are pregnant. Yet, Dr Al Hammadi believes people should refrain from altering their colour unless it’s a medical necessity and points out that blemishes and irregularities in skin tone, particularly around joints, are perfectly normal. 

His philosophy is simple — “It is common to see that certain areas of the body are darker than others, such as over the joints or underneath your arms. If you have normal skin, you shouldn’t change it. Love it as it is.”