Harmful skin creams flood Zim markets

The use of skin lightening creams is normally associated with women, but men are now turning to harmful and often illegal creams in a bid to improve their appearance.

We only display empty containers, said a vendor of the illegal cosmetics.
We only display empty containers, said a vendor of the illegal cosmetics.

Said Fanuel Chirimbe from Highfield in Harare: “Men want to look good too. Just like the Congolese men, the use of these skin lightening creams among men is increasing.”

Often sold at night in the city centre, creams such as Diproson, Movate, Betasol, Carolight, Lemonvate and Extra Clere have flooded the market and they are now openly sold at shopping centres.

Said a vendor of the illegal creams in Harare: “Our customers love them, which is why we continue to stock them. Some of them may be fake but it is not our fault. People denounce them, but they still come at night to buy the same products.”

She said that, in Harare, they sold them at night to evade the police and the city council because it was illegal to sell on the pavements and illegal to sell prohibited substances.

The creams are illegal because they contain harmful substances and are not authorised by the Medicines Control Council of Zimbabwe, the body responsible for regulating medicines in Zimbabwe. The creams are classified under the country’s Dangerous Drugs and Substances Act, and the Drug Control Council of Zimbabwe banned the creams in 1980.

Zimbabweans however continue buying and selling the creams despite repeated warnings by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and dermatologists of the effects of the products on health.

Said another vendor: “My biggest customers are police officers and they come and buy even when they are in uniform.”

Said Grace Chikwature of Harare: “Some of the female officer threaten us with arrest but the truth of the matter is that they’re actually soliciting for a bribe in the form of the same skin lightening creams.”

The vendors said the creams were addictive and that once people stopped using them they developed skin rashes and unsightly skin pigmentation.

“I would do anything to look beautiful,” said 22-year-old Sharon Dombwe from Dzivarasekwa, who said that she uses Carolight “sparingly”.

“I am aware of the health risks of using such products, but there are certain standards of beauty that I have to meet,” she said..

Researchers have indicated that most of the products sold on the market contain a cocktail of compounds like hydroquinone and tretinoin, which if used for a long time can lead to skin cancer, permanent pigmentation of the skin, liver damage and mercury poisoning.

Sai a vendor at Jambanja market in Unit L, Seke: “We openly sell them because the police are now tired of raiding us.”

He said the vendors hid the creams in safe places and only produced them at the request of a customer.

“What is on display here are just empty boxes and containers,” he said, adding that the creams were not supposed to be displayed in the sun.

“They should be stored in cool and dark places, and people that bleach their skin using the creams are supposed to avoid the sun as well,” he said.

The products are smuggled mostly through Chirundu and Nyamapanda border posts.

Said an official from the health ministry: “The influx of the products in the country despite that they are a banned substance indicates that our borders are porous.

“It is a sign of corruption because there could be a very high profile individual who is facilitating the entry of the products into the country. Why the police are not acting on this issue any more is cause for concern,” said the official.

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