IT has been reported that state agents have intercepted counterfeit, fake and substandard cosmetics valued at 72.4m/-. The offensive products, most of which are diabolical skin creams, were impounded during a recent crackdown in seven regions.

The nation has been told that the special hunt for dangerous cosmetics was conducted in Dar es Salaam, Coast, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Geita, Mara and Arusha regions.

The noble initiative removed from the Mainland market offensive unregistered cosmetics. The cosmetics included Carolight cream, Citrolight cream, Sivoclaire cream, Max light cream and Maxman capsules (which enlarge men’s private parts).

The last item in the list shows how far morals have sunk in some people. Who is interested in fattened manhood? Other offensive items impounded included Virginity soap,

Papaya breast enlarging creams and creams such as Clobetasone Proprionate and Betamethasone which are misused to treat skin disorders. Most of the creams are, unwittingly, used by women as skin lighteners.

Some of the creams contain mercury -- an ingredient that is highly dangerous to health. It is imperative to point out here that the inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys. It may also be fatal.

Mercury toxicity can cause mood swings, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, headache, abnormal sensations, muscle twitching, tremors, weakness, muscle atrophy, and decreased cognitive functions.

The inorganic salts in mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and intestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested. Mercury is also the source of Minamata disease which cause severe cases of brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium.

Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or exposure to different mercury compounds. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction.

So, those who use skin lightening creams that are laced with mercury often see their skin turning dark or too light, thinning of the skin, visible blood vessels in the skin, and scarring and an array of cancers.

They also risk kidney, liver or nerve damage. Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in the womb if a pregnant woman eats contaminated fish.

Mercury can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. The primary health effect of mercury is impaired neurological development. Therefore, cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills may be affected in children who were exposed to mercury as foetuses.

Indeed, everyone must avoid the use of banned cosmetics. It is also necessary to mention here that some unwitting women are now using medical creams and ointments that are prescribed in health facilities for treatment of eczema and other skin disorders to lighten their skins.

This is not only foolhardy but also highly dangerous. Tanzania Food and Drugs Regulatory Authority (TFDA) says that while it is working hard to take off the shelves and destroy banned cosmetics some women now use medical skin creams and ointments to bleach their skins.

A few years ago the government slammed a ban on counterfeit soaps, skin creams, ointments and other products that contain deadly intoxicants such as steroids, chloroforms, mercury, sulphur, hydroquinone and other harmful chemicals.

The manufacturers of these counterfeit, highly dangerous creams have of late been a shade cleverer by choosing not to print the list of active ingredients on packages containing the dangerous creams and ointments.

But even worse, some women have been going to chemist shops, pharmacies and hospitals to buy permitted and legally imported skin treating products which they apply on their skins without competent medical advice.

This is a dangerous habit, to say the very least. Consequently, there is a proliferation of skin and liver cancers among some of the most notorious abusers of chemicals. The disaster has even seen some women missing their menstrual periods.

Others have given birth to mentally retarded babies. Yes, this is the catastrophe some of our women have courted unwittingly. A few years ago the government slammed a ban on counterfeit soaps, skin creams, ointments and other products that contain deadly intoxicants such as steroids, chloroforms, mercury, sulphur, hydroquinone and other harmful chemicals.

The manufacturers of these mostly counterfeit, highly dangerous creams have of late been a shade cleverer by choosing not to print the list of active ingredients on packages containing the dangerous creams and ointments.

But even worse, some women have been going to chemist shops, pharmacies and hospitals to buy permitted and legally imported skin treating products which they apply on their skins without competent medical advice.

This is a dangerous habit, to say the very least. Consequently, there is a proliferation of skin and liver cancers among some of the most notorious abusers of chemicals. The disaster has even seen some women missing their menstrual periods.

Others have given birth to mentally retarded babies. Yes, this is the catastrophe some of our women have courted unwittingly. Meanwhile, it is important to mention here that importers of fake, goods are notorious evaders of taxes who also ruin national economy. Now, a closer look at the harm wrought by skin bleaching might shock even the coldest hearts.

In fact, in a failed bid to enhance their skin beauty, many women have ended up falling victim of several diseases that only leave their skin worse and even jeopardize their lives. Arguably, the beauty and cosmetic industry has enjoyed unprecedented attention and patronage in recent times to the extent that a shocking statistic revealed that about 75% of African women make use of one skin-lightening product or the other.

Unfortunately, some of these products contain harmful chemicals like hydroquinone which, although notable for its rapid bleaching abilities has also been implicated in organ damage as well as skin cancer. In the end, it does more harm than good when abused or used against the doctor’s prescription.

No wonder the use of hydroquinone in skin lighteners has been banned across Europe and several other countries including Australia and Japan. Hydroquinone- and mercurycontaining skin products work by blocking melanin production by the basal layer of the epidermis of the skin.

Since melanin is the pigment responsible for the dark colour of the skin, such skin becomes lighter. With prolonged use, however, these chemicals react with ultraviolet rays, become oxidized and then cause unsightly pigmentations on the skin.

Furthermore, hydroquinone may disrupt the collagen fibres which constitute the connective tissue of the skin and the outcome is a spotty, wrinkled skin. It is a well-known fact that the melanin pigment of the black skin protects against the harmful carcinogenic effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun and this explains why black people have a lower risk of skin cancer than the whites.

However, individuals that bleach their black skin colour have lost the privilege of this protection and consequently expose themselves to skin cancer. In addition, the mercury content of many bleaching creams has also been shown to be carcinogenic.

It is also a well-known fact that many of the available skin lighteners contain steroids, the prolonged use of which hampers skin health and leads to skin atrophy, a condition in which skin thickness is appreciably reduced. Such light-skinned individuals are more prone to skin injuries such as bruises, abrasions and cuts.

Striae (abnormal streaks or lines) are often noticed on bleached skin and, in fact, they are not good to look at! Continued use of those skinlightening creams may not be in the best interest of your internal organs especially your kidneys, liver and brain. For instance, heavy metals including mercury are important causes of kidney injury and failure.

In large doses, the liver and brain may not be spared as well. There is such a condition as mercury intoxication or poisoning. It can result from mercury inhalation, ingestion, injection or absorption through the skin.

The bad news is that if your bleaching cream contains high levels of mercury, you are setting yourself up for mercury poisoning. More unfortunate is the fact that mercury poisoning has some fatal effects on the brain that are quite difficult to reverse such as tremors, ataxia (loss of balance or coordination), dysarthria (inability to articulate words) and numbness or tingling sensation on the extremities.

In conclusion, it is in recognition of these unpleasant problems that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that everyone be happy with the colour of their skin. I am proud to be black. A word is enough for the w