The Price Of Whiter Skin For Millions Of Indians Is A Drug-Dependency

The Price Of Whiter Skin For Millions Of Indians Is A Drug-Dependency

- in Uncategorized

by Pallabi Munsi

Photos by Ranita Roy for CNN

Editor’s note: This story is part of ‘White lies’, a series by CNN’s As Equals investigating skin whitening practices worldwide to expose the underlying drivers of colorism, the industry that profits from it and the cost to individuals and communities. For information about how CNN As Equals is funded and more, check out our FAQs.

Listen to this story



A message notification from a stranger. That was all it took for Soma Banik to be transported back to her teenage years, and for the memories of all the “horrific things” she went through to come flooding back.

The stranger in question was Janet James, who reached out to her one afternoon in June 2018. “I need your help,” James messaged Banik on the social networking platform Quora. She described how she had been using a cream containing the steroid Betamethasone for over two years to lighten her skin and was experiencing disturbing side-effects. “Whenever I stop using it, my face starts itching and small blisters arise,” she wrote.

James had stumbled upon Banik’s skincare blog, in which she documents her own painful experience with topical steroid creams and had sent her an urgent plea for guidance.

Banik, who is now a 33-year-old state government employee from the suburbs of Kolkata, replied instantly. She gave James the advice she wished someone had given her: “Stop right away.”

Soma Banik documents her experience with topical steroid creams on her skincare blog.Betamethasone is a potent topical corticosteroid medication habitually used to treat a wide range of skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema, but one of the potential side effects is lightening of the skin.

Creams containing Betamethasone should only be used on the advice of a doctor and are typically acquired with a prescription. But in India, as CNN learned from doctors and users around the country, Betamethasone, and other corticosteroid creams, are regularly being misused as a skin lightening agent — mostly by women.

In 2003, when Banik was just 14, a neighbor told her mother how much their child had “benefitted” from becoming “fair” by using a new cream. “Your daughter will also become fair,” they said.

Wanting Banik to have the best prospects in a country where lighter skin is seen as desirable and associated with success, Banik’s mother took her neighbor’s advice. “I was disappointed that it came in a tube so unappealingly medicated,” Banik recalls, “but it held the secrets toward my fairer future.”

School friends were the first to notice, commenting on Banik’s newly acquired “good looks,” but within two months of using the steroid cream, she started to feel a burning sensation whenever she was out in the sun. She says she accepted this as part of the process: no pain, no fairness.

But one morning, the teenager forgot to apply the cream and within hours, a zit appeared on her chin. Though it quickly settled on applying the cream, Banik’s face started itching all the time. She soon developed acne and then, a year after the zit appeared, hair began to grow all over her face.

Banik, 33, is now a state government employee living the suburbs of Kolkata. She started using a topical cream to lighten her skin when she was 14.CNN spoke with multiple Indian dermatologists all of whom confirmed that Banik’s symptoms — itching, acne, and hirsutism (hair on the face) — are signs of Topical Steroid Damaged/Dependent Face (TSDF), caused by the excessive or prolonged use of steroid creams.

Topical corticosteroids, such as Betamethasone, have several medical benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects, but they should only be used for short durations and under the supervision of a doctor, ideally a dermatologist. Extensive use can cause a range of side effects, including pustules, where big rashes appear on the face, dryness, hypopigmentation (lighter skin), hyperpigmentation (darker skin), or photosensitivity (reactions to sunlight).

It is the potential for hypopigmentation that is thought of as desirable by many women, and leads to misuse of the drug, in turn, fueling a dependency.

Once the skin is dependent on a steroid cream, explains Dr Rajetha Damisetty, it is difficult for a person to stop using it. Every attempt to stop will lead to an eruption of pimples, rashes, and redness. “That’s why people go back to using it,” says Damisetty, chairperson of the Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists’ (IADVL) task force against topical steroid abuse.

Even though numerous painful and visible side effects could develop from topical corticosteroid misuse, dermatologists told CNN that the practice is rampant in India — despite the introduction of restrictions in 2018 to limit access to these drugs.

In 2017, the IADVL filed a lawsuit called a Public Interest Litigation in the Delhi High Court seeking a ban on the sale of steroid skin creams without a valid prescription. The petition stated that the unregulated sale of corticosteroids had caused “serious adverse effects on the health of millions of Indians.”

While the Court has yet to rule, the government took action in March 2018, with the Health Ministry adding 14 topical steroid creams, including Betamethasone, to the list of Schedule H drugs which cannot be purchased without a doctor’s prescription.

But despite this reclassification, CNN has found that little has changed in the sale or use of these so-called “fairness creams.”

Banik’s husband, Biswadweep Mitra, uses an epilator to help her remove facial hair that continues to grow after she stopped using topical corticosteroids.India is a vast country with a large rural population and health services managed at the state level. As such, painting a complete, up-to-date picture of the misuse of steroid creams is challenging.

Still, there is enough evidence to show that whether in large cities or in rural areas, these restricted substances continue to be easily accessible, used as a skin-lightening agent and predominantly by women, and their perceived benefits promoted to users by friends, family, neighbours, TV commercials and even pharmacists.

In recent months, CNN has been able to buy four types of topical steroid creams over the counter in 16 pharmacies across the subcontinent: in the northern city of Delhi, Kolkata in the east, Ahmedabad to the west and Hyderabad in southern India.

Of six staffers in as many stores CNN spoke to, just one acknowledged being aware of the need for a prescription to buy the creams and continued to sell the product without one. The remaining five people appeared unaware of the reclassification and sold the creams, even after being questioned. Staff at the 10 other stores visited avoided questioning but sold CNN the creams, also without prescription.

According to doctors and users of steroid creams, the products are also readily available at grocery stores.

When asked what he thought about the continued over-the-counter availability of topical steroids, Dr Abir Saraswat, a dermatologist with 20 years of experience, says he believes India’s powerful pharmaceutical lobby is to blame, citing threats to strike and shut up shop. “Surely, no government

Source Title:
The price of whiter skin for millions of Indians is a drug-dependency

Go To The SourceRead More

Leave a Reply

You may also like

Everything You Need Before Your Next Ski Trip

It could be you, or it could be