Sunday February 3 2013

Skin drugs being sold as bleaching cosmetics

Skin drugs being sold as bleaching cosmetics

Some of the cosmetics meant to treat skin diseases but being sold as bleaching agents on open market in Kampala on Friday. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye. 

By Flavia Lanyero

Some unscrupulous traders are making a kill through selling wrong bleaching agents to unsuspecting Ugandans.

The Sunday Monitor can reveal that some of the drugs meant to be strictly sold by hospitals and licensed clinics for the treatment of skin diseases, are now being promoted by traders as cosmetics that can lighten dark skin.

For instance, creams such as Diproson and Betasol can now be found in local shops in the country.

Dr Sam Opio, the Secretary Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda, said the creams are “only supposed to be used under prescription of a doctor for the right quantity and duration for it to be applied”. The medical officer said these creams were used to bleach leather material.

Kikuubo flooded with cosmetics
This newspaper found these creams in cosmetic shops around Kampala being sold by shopkeepers. They were found in nearly all cosmetic shops in Kikuubo, a retail corridor in Kampala, and also in some suburbs like Namuwongo. Diproson cream goes for Shs1,500 while the liquid one costs Shs2,500. Betasol, on the other hand, was a little more expensive at Shs3,000.

The low prices mean a better part of the population is able to access these creams and use them. In fact, Betasol was scarce because stock had run out, according to the shopkeepers.

However, abuse of these drugs can cause the skin to crack, exposing one to several skin disease and even cancer.

“These drugs being steroids are anti-inflammatory and are supposed to be prescribed for skin rushes, itchiness or irritation. Using steroids without specification lowers the body’s immunity system as some of them are absorbed into the skin and lowers its ability to fight infections,” Dr Opio said, adding, “For example, even a simple cough may refuse to go away or take very long to cure.”

Other harmful ingredients in skin products that people should be aware of, according to Dr Opio, include; Mercury and Hydroquinone. These have been linked to blood diseases, muscle weakness, acne and many other skin disorders.

Although not qualified to give prescriptions, shopkeepers go ahead to give instructions on how to use the creams, well aware of their bleaching aspect. One shopkeeper, without specifying the quantity, for instance, said a reasonable amount of liquid Diproson can be mixed with ordinary lotion to achieve a desired lightening effect. Another told this reporter to first apply a layer of diproson tube on the skin before applying any other lotion to get good results.

According to the Uganda Revenue Authority Enforcement Performance report for July to December 2012, some 2,448 tubes of Diproson and Betasol creams have been intercepted in the past two years.

Leaflets of the two creams indicate that they are supposed to be used to treat Eczema, Psoriasis, Lichen simplex, contact dermatitis and other skin diseases.

A source at National Drug Authority said they at times ambush these retailers in Kikuubo and impound the cosmetics but are currently looking for their suppliers.