Intended for healthcare professionals


Unethical skin bleaching with glutathione

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 31 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4386
  1. Ophelia E Dadzie, consultant dermatologist and dermatopathologist
  1. Departments of dermatology and histopathology, Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Uxbridge, UK
  1. opheliadadzie{at}

UK regulators must warn against this potentially dangerous practice

Skin bleaching is the misuse of skin lightening agents to lighten constitutive skin colour.1 It is a purely cosmetic procedure which should be distinguished from the use of skin lightening agents by physicians to treat pigmentary disorders.

Skin bleaching is a global phenomenon practised by a range of people living in communities in Africa, North and South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.1 Agents used for skin bleaching include hydroquinone, topical steroids, mercurials, kojic acid, and sometimes products such as battery fluid and cement.1

Potential adverse effects associated with this practice include irritant and allergic contact dermatitis, exogenous ochronosis, infections, and systemic problems such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and renal disease.1 In light of this, public health campaigns around the world have focused on educating communities about the dangers of skin bleaching.

Despite these efforts, anecdotal …

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