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Dying to be pale: Cambodia's obsession with whitening cream

Dying to be pale: Cambodia's obsession with whitening cream

Many whitening creams contain dangerous chemicals that can harm skin but a lack of regulations means consumers remain in the dark

FOLLOWING the passage by the Council of Ministers of a new sub-decree last Friday to prevent the import of potentially harmful cosmetics, proponents of alternative medicine have been swift to raise their voices about the vulnerability of women purchasing skin cream in an unregulated market.

Commercial manufacturing of skin whitener, which comes under tight control in the US and Europe, has, up to now, gone largely unsupervised in the Cambodian market, despite wide reports of side effects.

Most of the problem products, which circulate on the black market, include over-chemicalised lotions and illegal creams.

 

"Many Cambodian women, especially youth, love the white bodies and faces," said Ing Sovanly, director of Neary Khmer Association for Health and Vocational Training in Phnom Penh which produces chemical-free cosmetics. "They are embarrassed when their skin is damaged later," she said, adding women have come to her with damaged and even blackened skin after using some products.

Banned chemicals common

The cast of skin whitening products currently available include chemicals such as steroids, peroxide and the popular hydroquinone bleach. The EU banned hydroquinone in 2001 after it linked it with adverse side effects.

But in Cambodia, where the market has been unmonitored for years, skin damage is so prevalent that mixing the creams with antibiotics is common.

Hao Daneth, a garment worker for Sun Tex Garment Factory in Phnom Penh, said her face went black after she used a cream mixed with antibiotics many times.

"I did not go outside except to go to work," Hao Daneth said.

Dr Soeur Chan Than, a dermatologist in Phnom Penh, said this was a sad reality.

"People know that it damages their skin, but they use it anyway."

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