This is the VOA Special English Health Report.
In many societies, there is often greater acceptance of light skin than dark skin. Light skin may be seen as a mark of beauty, intelligence and success. These beliefs can lead to social pressures even within the same racial or ethnic group, if some members are darker skinned than others.
The result is that skin lightening has become a common activity across Africa, Asia and other areas of the world. More and more people with dark skin are using skin-lightening products, even if it means they may face health risks.
They believe that having whiter skin will improve their lives. Many people think they will have a better chance of getting a job or marrying into a better family. Or they want to look like what their society generally considers beautiful.
Some beauty care products and soaps contain chemicals that make skin lighter. This process is also called bleaching. But some of the chemicals are extremely dangerous. One of the most dangerous is hydroquinone.
Hydroquinone has been banned in several countries. This chemical has been linked to kidney damage and some kinds of cancer. It also causes low birth weight in babies when mothers use it during pregnancy.
At first, bleaching products make the skin color lighter. But after long-term use they can cause problems. They could even make some skin darker.
The chemicals in the products block and break down the natural process that gives color to skin. The skin loses its natural barrier to protect against sunlight. Then the skin can become thick and discolored. Usually the person will use more of the product in an effort to correct the problem, but this only makes it worse.
Fatimata Ly treats skin conditions in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Doctor Ly says skin bleaching has become a problem throughout Senegal. She says the chemicals are now more dangerous because they are stronger. Some cases have resulted in blackened fingernails, infections and permanent skin damage.
And these are not the only risks. Experts say some people who change their skin color suffer emotional damage. They feel regret and sadness. They feel that instead of risking their health, they should have learned to love and accept their skin color as it was.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Lawan Davis. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.