Your fairness cream may lead to kidney problems, reveals study

A recent study talks about how the use of fairness creams can lead to a kidney disorder called Membranous Nephropathy (MN). Read on to know more.

If you have been consistently using fairness creams, this may be the time to exercise caution. Recent research reveals that fairness creams might be giving you a lot more than just glowing skin. It might also be leading to problems in your kidneys.

A study, published in Kidney International Journal, states that these creams have a very high percentage of mercury, and this can effect your kidneys. The study cites a kidney disorder called Membranous Nephropathy (MN) that can happen due to the repeated usage of fairness creams. The high levels of mercury in fairness creams can damage kidney filters and lead to protein leakage. Serious cases of this condition may even develop kidney cancer.

In the study, there are 22 incidents of Membranous Nephropathy (MN) that have been recorded. The patients, who were treated at Aster MIMS Hospital, Kottakkal, between July 2021 and September 2023. The participants who had a history of using fairness creams had to undergo heavy metal screenings of their blood as well as urine. The fairness creams used were also sent for chemical analysis.

Results of the study on fairness creams and their effect on kidneys

The results indicated that there were 22 cases of MN. Out of these, 15 people used fairness creams for a period of four months, before symptoms started surfacing. The symptoms included fatigue, mild edema and increased frothing of urine, the study states. It also adds that majority of the patients were found to have elevated levels of mercury in their blood and urine. The chemical analysis of the creams also reported heavy mercury content. The mercury toxicity led to Membranous nephropathy.

What is membranous nephropathy?

Membranous nephropathy, also known as the membranous glomerulopathy, is a kind of nephrotic syndrome that has massive proteinuria, or elevated protein in the urine. “This can clinically present as peripheral edema, hypertension, frothy urine, with or without thromboembolic phenomena. It can be 80 percent cases (primary) or because of another illness 20 percent cases (secondary). The secondary causes could be infections, drugs, heavy metals, some autoimmune diseases, 45 percent of which could be due to heavy metal exposure or due to drugs,” explains nephrologist Dr Topoti Mukherjee.

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It is important to note that about 30-40 percent of MN cases can proceed to end stage kidney disease.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Membranous nephropathy is diagnosed after a kidney biopsy. It is treated by Immunosuppressive therapy.

A woman with a dab of cream on her cheek
Fairness creams can have many side effects such as skin rashes, inflammation, skin damage and skin thinning. Image courtesy: Freepik

Is membranous nephropathy reversible?

Yes, membranous nephropathy can be treatable depending on the cause. “The treatment mainly focuses on blood pressure control, control of proteinuria, and sometimes immunosuppressant therapies have to be given, explains Dr Mukherjee.

Also Read: Keratin hair treatments may lead to kidney damage, reveals study

Do fairness creams really work?

Are you wondering if fairness creams are worth the risk? While these creams can create a temporary brightening effect, they won’t change your natural skin tone permanently. Fairness creams have ingredients in them that target melatonin. “Most of these creams contain hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid and also certain steroids that inhibit melanin production or by reducing the melanin pigmentation in skin,” explains dermatologist Dr Priyanka Kuri. These fairness creams use AHAs or BHAs to exfoliate the top layer of skin, revealing the lighter cells underneath.

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Other risks of using fairness creams

There are several potential risks associated with fairness creams which poses risks, such as:

1. Skin irritation and allergic reactions

Ingredients like hydroquinone can cause dryness, redness, and itching in some people. A study, published in Indian Journal of Dermatology states that fairness creams contain mercury and that can lead to rashes, tremors, head aches, as well as weight loss and fatigue.

2. Skin thinning and damage

Prolonged use of certain fairness creams can lead to skin thinning, fragility, and increased susceptibility to infections. A study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, states that fairness creams contain hydroquinone, steroids, besides mercury. This can lead to inflammation as well as thinning of skin. In fact, fairness creams should not be used during pregnancy or breast feeding as it can lead to abnormalities in the baby too.

3. Uneven skin tone

Overuse of fairness creams can sometimes result in an unnatural, patchy appearance of the skin, especially if used incorrectly or excessively. A study, published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, revealed that fairness creams can lead to hyperpigmentation disorders and that can lead to patches on the face.

4. Increased sensitivity to sunlight

Some ingredients in fairness creams can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, leading to sunburns and other sun-related damage. “By reducing melanin, fairness creams can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. It is important to look for creams with SPF protection,” says Dr Kuri.

5. Long-term health risks

There’s emerging evidence suggesting a link between the use of certain fairness creams and health issues such as kidney problems, as highlighted in study explained above.

A woman with SPF written on her cheek
while choosing skin care products, it is important to check for SPF. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to choose skincare products safely?

Over-the-counter fairness creams might be riskier than you can even imagine. Therefore, remember these points before deciding on skincare products

  • Focus on healthy skin: Aim for a healthy, even skin tone rather than drastic lightening.
  • Consult a dermatologist: Discuss your goals and concerns with a dermatologist for personalized recommendations on safe and effective skincare products.
  • Look for reputed brands: Choose products from well-known brands with clear ingredient lists and avoid those with mercury or harsh chemicals.
  • Sun protection: In stead of focussing on fairness creams, always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to ensure skin health.
  • Consider alternatives: Explore natural skincare options like vitamin C serums or ask your dermatologist about safe lightening procedures.