The Quest for Fair Skin Leads to 'Serious Adverse Effects'

In India, topical steroid creams that lighten skin cause painful side effects
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2021 8:00 AM CST
The Quest for Fair Skin Is Driving Dangerous Behavior
   (Getty Images)

Since 2018, you shouldn't be able to buy a "fairness cream" over the counter in India. That was the year the government required that 14 topical steroid creams be made available only with a doctor's prescription. And yet CNN was recently able to purchase four types of topical steroid creams without a prescription in 16 pharmacies located in four corners of the subcontinent. As for why that's a problem, one dermatologist group cites the "serious adverse effects on the health of millions of Indians" the creams cause, and CNN brings that to life by personalizing the experience. As a 14-year-old, Soma Banik began using a cream containing the corticosteroid betamethasone after a neighbor told her mother how much her own daughter had "benefitted" from achieving fairer skin with the use of the cream.

It "worked," with friends starting to comment on the teen's "good looks" as her skin lightened. But two months in, the problems started: the feeling of burning when her skin was exposed to the sun, acne, itching, and a condition called hirsutism in which hair grows on the face. Dermatologists says those are symptoms associated with Topical Steroid Damaged/Dependent Face, which results from the extended or overuse of steroid creams. And it's not easy to just give up the creams once you've started, as "every attempt to stop will lead to an eruption of pimples, rashes, and redness," as CNN puts it. (Banik no longer uses the creams but still suffers from hirsutism.) It looks at the reasons why these creams are still so readily available, from the pharmaceutical lobby to issues related to verifying registered pharmacists are staffing shops. (Read the full piece for much more.)

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