Can skin bleaching cause kidney failure?
There was a major uproar on social media this past week when the news of the arrest of a popular Nigerian politician and his wife in the United States broke out. An average Nigerian who did not see the details of the news would think that the politician was arrested for money laundering or corruption-related charges. Things are a bit different this time, he was arrested for a potential organ trafficking offense. What!
Are you saying that all the oil money is no longer enough and Nigerian politicians are now delving into organ trafficking for self-enrichment? Well, it just happens that the politician has a daughter with a bad pair of kidneys and requires a kidney transplant. Instead of waiting unendingly until it gets to her turn on the kidney recipient waiting list, the parents decided to use their influence to coerce an underage boy into donating one of his kidneys.
As if that is not terrible enough, the boy's age was falsified on his traveling passport to make it look like he is old enough to give consent. How the truth came out is yet to be clear to the public as the case just passed through the first hearing and was adjourned till the 7th of next month.
Trust Nigerians, a few hours after the news broke out, pictures of the ailing young lady surfaced. The throwback image is that of a girl that is chocolate in complexion while the more recent images show a young lady with white skin. In other words, the young lady has metamorphosed her skin from chocolate to white. Bleached!
Different comments started flying around concerning the pictures, but the one that really got my attention pointed the bleaching as the likely cause of her kidney problems. Could it be true? Does bleaching have any correlation with kidney problems?
A little web research and the answer I was looking for was staring at my face. Because the practice of skin bleaching is peculiar to developing nations with colored populations such as Africa and Asia, not many peer-reviewed publications exist on the subject.
Most of the publications on the subject point to heavy metals, especially mercury, as the main culprits in bleaching-induced kidney failure. Many bleaching creams are known to contain mercury in addition to other components. The mercury functions specifically to inactivate the enzyme that is responsible for the production of melanin - the substance that gives pigmentation to the skin, eyes, and hair.
Heavy metals in the body systems are known to cause toxicity to the body when a certain threshold level is reached or exceeded. The effects have been found to include damage to the central nervous system, blood poisoning, renal impairment, and a host of other abnormalities. When a bleaching cream containing mercury is used, the metal gets absorbed by the skin and eventually gets sequestered into various tissues in the body.
The kidney is more susceptible to the toxicity of mercury and heavy metals generally due to its ability to reabsorb and concentrate the ions of these metals. Thus, with prolonged use of mercury-containing bleaching products, the most likely organ to first be affected is the kidney.
Apart from creams, there are injectable skin bleaching products. However, extreme caution has been advised by health authorities all over the world against skin bleaching generally. Despite the warning, many people still engage in the practice today. According to World Health Organization, between 25 and 80% of women in African countries engage in skin bleaching. The percentage is lower in other developing countries like India, Pakistan, etc. The practice is not even limited to just women as I have seen several men who engage in skin bleaching.
Skin bleaching using mercury-containing substances, beyond reasonable scientific doubts, has been found to have a correlation with kidney impairment. Impaired kidney function is just one of the numerous health issues that skin bleaching can cause. The practice offers no known benefits to those that engage in it and depicts people who have psychological issues with their skin colour.
Thank you for reading.
Posted with STEMGeeks