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Mumbai: Fairness creams cause kidney disease in two individuals

Updated on: 23 February,2024 07:11 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Fairness creams linked to kidney disease in two; doctor warns against use of non-FDA approved creams which are often sold as ‘wonder products’ termed as ‘herbal’

Mumbai: Fairness creams cause kidney disease in two individuals

Rajesh started having problems after using ‘herbal’ fairness cream purchased from a local barbershop

Key Highlights

  1. Two different fairness creams caused kidney disease in two individuals, both from Raigad
  2. Another such case was diagnosed early last year at Parel`s KEM Hospital
  3. While there have been no known new cases in the city

Two different fairness creams—one procured from a local barbershop, the other purchased from the market with a 'made in Malaysia' label—caused kidney disease in two individuals, both from Raigad. Another such case was diagnosed early last year at Parel's KEM Hospital. While there have been no known new cases in the city, Borivli's Salon & Beauty Parlour Welfare Association recently raised similar concerns with the local police and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Akhil Salmani, president of the association, said many establishments are creating creams and lotions without prior approvals and providing them to their customers. “They are made using dangerous chemicals, which can prove to be harmful to the skin in the long run. I have been receiving several calls from salon owners within our association who are saying their customers were telling them about health issues they faced after using products for hair from different establishments,” Salmani said.

Rajesh, a 54-year-old civil engineer from CBD Belapur, visited a salon in Sector 11 (Belapur) in September 2022 where he was provided with a fairness cream for daily use. He continued using the product for a few months, purchasing a new pack as and when required. “I was also told the product is herbal. I applied the cream every night before sleeping. By March, I noticed abnormalities in my urine; it had become a little frothy,” he said. This was a sign he chose to ignore. His blood sugar levels soon dropped, after which he visited a diabetologist in Dadar. “My wife is a nurse at Sion hospital. She thought it would be better if we also consulted a kidney specialist. I did a sonography there, but nothing was found,” he said.

The family was not convinced and so Rajesh got more tests done at a hospital in Navi Mumbai. By the time the tests were done, it was July 2023 and his wife had made him stop using the cream altogether for the last couple of months. “We even had a biopsy done,” Rajesh said.

Dr Amit Langote, a nephrologist at Medicover Hospitals, Navi Mumbai, where Rajesh is being treated, said, “The biopsy showed frothy urine, which meant there was a leakage of protein—a condition associated with kidney disease. It also showed NELL-1 antigen, which is associated with cancer and the presence of other heavy metals.”

Rajesh was then asked to do a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to detect cancer, but the results were normal. “We were also asked if I consumed ayurvedic substances as they can be high in metallic substances. I used those a long time ago but had stopped,” he said.

It was just last month that Rajesh was asked if he used any face cream. Dr Langote said Rajesh and one other female patient, who did not wish to talk to the press, had presented similar symptoms a month apart last year. However, due to the age differences between the two, it had not occurred to him to ask Rajesh about beauty products.

“As soon as he confirmed using a fairness cream, we performed a blood test to search for mercury presence,” Dr Langote said, adding that in both cases, high amounts of the metal— typically used in fairness creams—were found.

“High mercury content in fairness creams suppresses melanocytes in the skin which are responsible for pigmentation. Home-based cream makers (barbers or salons who sell the creams) often knowingly use mercury in the cream, unaware of its harm to the body. Consumers should avoid purchasing any products without proper authorisation from qualified experts and opt for FDA-approved creams to ensure safety,” he said.

Safety concerns
Several skin-lightening creams cause health issues because they contain high levels of mercury and hydroquinone. Mercury exposure can lead to mercury poisoning and kidney damage. Long-term exposure to hydroquinone can also damage the kidneys and liver.

Social pressure
Socially, the existence and advertising of these products negatively affect the mental well-being of people of colour and perpetuate racist ideas of beauty. These products are not recommended for use due to the physical and emotional damage they cause.'

Allergen indicating cancer, presence of heavy metals

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