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Skin to Die for: Women Ignore the Dangers of Whitening Products

I accidentally came across with this article from Jakarta Globe. It is so sad indeed, that a lot of people don't realize the danger of a lot of skin care products out there since our skin is our biggest organ. I posted earlier in this blog called The Story Behind Cosmetics which I really recommended to read & watch. But don't worry, today there are a lot more natural & safe skin care products to choose from.

Bunga, a 32-year-old housewife from East Jakarta, has used skin-lightening products since 2006.

She says she once had a darker complexion, but since using the Taiwan-made products she buys in Mangga Dua her skin has become much fairer, and her husband has praised the change.

“The fairer my skin, the more beautiful I feel, just like those celebrities on television,” she said. “I want to cover up my ugliness. White is better.”

Bunga said when she first started using the products, her skin began to peel off but she stuck with the treatment after the vendor told her it was a natural reaction for anyone using bleaching products.

“I’ve heard from some of my neighbors that the creams I’m using can be dangerous because you don’t really know what they put in there,” she said.

But Bunga is not concerned about the risk.

“Not all smokers die from lung cancer or heart disease. It’s basically about immunity,” she said.

The obsession among many Indonesian women for fairer skin has led to widespread disregard of the negative health impacts of skin-bleaching products.

Titi Moertolo, a Jakarta-based dermatologist, said many consumers were sold on the promise of instant results, and used dangerous products without being aware of the risks.

“They’re just after rapid results,” she said. “But given the growing level of access to the Internet, they should be able to research the product before buying it, including looking up any harmful ingredients.”

Titi warned that many of the skin-lightening products on the market contained hazardous chemicals, even some that were banned for use in topical medication. The worst of these is mercury, a substance that can be deadly.

“Products containing mercury are still widely found across the country, even though its use has been banned in every country in the world,” Titi said.

“The government should be strict about enforcing the ban because this chemical is very harmful. People shouldn’t take the risk.”

The immediate effects of mercury poisoning include rashes and skin irritation, according to the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM).

Long-term symptoms can be impossible to reverse, including brain damage, kidney problems, speech and hearing impediments, damage to the nervous system and skin cancer.

However, such warnings have done little to deter women intent on lightening their skin in an attempt to conform to the widely held belief that women with fair skin are more beautiful.

Kartini is a 27-year-old engineer who must work outdoors, but is desperate not to develop a tan, despite it being a natural consequence of her job.

“I don’t want to turn dark and have dull skin through prolonged exposure to sunlight,” she said.

She added that she used a whitening facial cream made by a friend who used to work for a cosmetics company.

“I don’t know what ingredients she uses, but she says it’s safe,” Kartini said.

She also said she used commercially available skin-lightening products for her body.

“Body lotions and hand creams with whitening agents are available in every supermarket,” she said. “And they’re all good for my skin.”

But Titi disagrees. She pointed out that many of the commercially available products contained hydroquinone, a chemical substance that works by reducing the production of melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its color.

Titi warned that inhibiting the production of melanin stripped the skin of its natural protection against ultraviolet rays, thus increasing the risk of skin cancer.

Another substance that often features in skin-bleaching products is azelaic acid, which also reduces pigmentation and has antibacterial properties. Titi said while its health effects were still being debated, there was a consensus that in high enough concentrations, it could cause cancer.

She said that even though the three dangerous substances were banned for use in topical medication, lax enforcement had allowed products containing them to remain on the market. Corruption is also an issue in quality control, meaning that even state-approved products may be unsafe.

“The producers can bribe BPOM officials to give their product the all-clear,” Titi said.

But Bunga, the housewife, summed up the popular attitude to skin-bleaching products: “As long as I can have whiter skin, I don’t care about the hazards.”


  1. I was surprised about how skin bleaching is popular in Jakarta, which I hear popular in the Philippines as well. When we lived in Senegal, I heard about skin bleaching products, so it's just not in Southeast Asia and it's scary because those people who use the products have no idea about the risk. Even in Japan, you can find skin whitening products, but I have never bought them. I went to buy moisturizer at a big supermarket in Jakarta, but I couldn't find any, so I asked a floor attendant and she showed me all these lotion and cream that said whitening! I didn't want any of that product. I had a difficult time finding good moisturizer here and I would love to have your advise. I usually don't spend much money on my cosmetics. I used to buy cosmetics from a drug store like CVS and Walgreens or Target. Which cosmetic company do you recommend for make-up remover and skin moisturizer?

  2. Yes, it's very sad. I hope more people are gonna be aware about this. At least they can choose whitening products that are more natural & non toxic.

    I used to buy products such as from Badger for me & my kids. But right now I don't have to worry about this anymore, because I can get natural, organic, non-toxic products here in Indonesia at a reasonable price :)

    You can use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for makeup remover (just be careful around your eyes, because it's quite feeling when it gets into your eyes, but at least it's non toxic).


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