The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Is skin-lightening cream a danger?

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 18•12

The Good Manner: Advice on Asia from WoWasis’ Pa Farang
Today’s dilemma: my Thai girlfriend uses skin lightening cream

Dear Pa Farang,

I would guess that like many other western men are like me, and appreciate and enjoy the dark beautiful skin color of their Thai wives and girlfriends. Lately, my GF has started to use a skin-lightening cream. She won’t stop using it, but in addition to the fact that I don’t like its effects, I’m not sure it’s safe. Any ammo you can give me to get her to stop?

Best regards,

– Into The Dark

Dear ITD, 

Skin lighteners aren’t just popular in Thailand, but in every Asian country as well. Pundits claim that this is due to the idea that poor people worked in fields and got dark from the sun, while rich people kept in the shade, and therefore had lighter skin. So white skin became a status symbol.  I’m not sure you can change your girlfriend’s mind around this concept, but you can help to ensure she doesn’t endanger herself (and you).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published an advisory about the dangers of using skin lighteners that contain mercury. Their warning is as follows:

Issue: FDA notified healthcare professionals and warned consumers not to use skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, or lotions that might contain mercury. The products are marketed as skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes and wrinkles. Adolescents also may use these products as acne treatments.

Recommendations: Consumers are advised to check the label of any skin lightening, anti-aging or other skin product used. If there is no label or no ingredients are listed, do not use the product. If “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury,” are listed on the label, stop using the product immediately. If you suspect you have been using a product with mercury, stop using it immediately. Thoroughly wash hands and any other parts of the body that have come in contact with the product. Contact a health care professional or a medical care clinic for advice.

In addition to being toxic, mercury travels well, and can easily affect people in physical proximity to the user, as well.  You may not be able to win the war, but perhaps you can win the battle.  First of all, insist that she not use a product that contains mercury or a mercury derivative in the product.  Mercury is pronounced tâat-bpà-ròt in Thai, and is spelled   ธาตุปรอท

Also, ask her not to buy skin lighteners that have no listed ingredients. The manufacturer could be hiding the fact that mercury is an ingredient.

Your own aesthetic preferences aside, you have a valid concern that could affect her health, as well as yours and that of her family and friends as well. Doubly important if she’s around children.

Best of success in steering this ship in another direction!

Remember to show the Good Manner, and have a great time in Thailand, 

– Pa Farang 

Read Pa Farang’s other columns for more advice on relationships and scams in Southeast Asia

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One Comment

  1. A survey carried out by the British Skin Foundation found that 16% of dermatologists believe lightening creams are ‘completely unsafe’ and 80% feel they are only safe when prescribed by a dermatologist. .^;-

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