Here's familiar story. For years, Allison Ross, of Brooklyn (US),rubbed in skin-lightening creams with names like Hyprogel and Fair & White. The 45 year-old said she wanted to even out and brighten the tone of her face, neck and hands - and be "more accepted" in society.
After months of twice-a-day applications, her skin was not only fairer, it had become so thin that a touch would bruise her face. Her capillaries became visible, and she developed stubborn acne. A doctor told her all three were side-effects of prescription-strength steroids in the creams, which she had bought over the counter in beauty supply stores.
"I never read the labels," Ross said. Instead, she took her cues from friends.
"Once somebody told me Fair & White was the one they were using, I'd go to the Korean store and ask for it."
The risk is not limited to the US. Millions of people, especially in developing countries, use such creams to lighten their body, where they are advertised as a way to elevate one's social standing.
Hyprogel, made in Germany, contains the powerful steroid clobetasol propionate (also found in some fairness creams sold elsewhere) and includes a warning to use only as directed by a doctor.
Long-term use of a whitening cream with topical steroids can lead to hypertension, high blood sugar and suppression of the body's natural steroids, doctors said.Some side-effects, like stretch marks, may be permanent.