Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 16:39 UK

'Bleaching destroyed my skin'

Carlene, after three years using skin 'bleaching' products
Carlene as she looks now, after using skin lighteners

Carlene, 35, from Kingston, Jamaica, has been "bleaching" her skin for three years.

She uses skin lightening creams which are popular with many Afro-Caribbean, African and Asian people, despite repeated health warnings.

Some of the products contain toxic chemicals, such as hydroquinone, which may cause skin irritation, bleaching, or even infection, when applied in excessive quantities.

In a special joint broadcast by BBC Africa Have Your Say and BBC Caribbean, Carlene explains why she began "rubbing" and the effect it had on her skin.

Your views on skin bleaching

I started bleaching my skin about three years ago.

I was trying to bring an even tone.

We live in a tropical country where the sun is always hot.

At some point, your face will become darker than the rest of your body.

I used to wear my pants and my feet were always browner than my body.

Sometimes I would see another girl and think: 'Oh, that's a nice tone, I would like to have that all in one look.'

'Barbie doll'

On a typical day, when I wake up, I use warm water and hair removing cream to bathe my skin.

Carlene (R) with her mum, before skin bleaching
Carlene (R) with her mum, before skin bleaching

Then I go and rub on my stuff, which is a mix of Bioclear oil with the cream.

I rub it on night and morning. No matter what hours I came up the road, I love to get my thing on.

Trust me. If you knew me then and now...

Some people who knew me before I started bleaching say I messed up myself.

Some people say: 'You look too fake!'

Some look at me like a Barbie doll because I wear a lot of make up and my face is just so pretty.

After three years bleaching, I have stopped.

The reason is that it gave me stretch marks on my hands and on some parts of my body - like my sides.

I didn't really want to destroy my skin.

But if you ask me: 'Would you still have stopped, if it hadn't done any harm?'

Trust me, no! Why would I stop?

Light touch

What's my advice, for people who never tried it before and think they want a nice tone?

I rub it on night and morning, no matter what hours I came up the road

I would say, go for something very mild.

Because what is really harsh in the bleaching cream is the hydroquinone.

I used to use a natural bleach without the hydroquinone.

But it was the gel that destroyed my skin. So for me I would say the gel is a no no.

Carlene, midway through her years of skin bleaching
Carlene, midway through her years of skin bleaching

You can always use something milder.

Am I more more beautiful now?

Come on, I'm beautiful whichever way, whether I'm black or white.

I just love myself, with or without. It's just me.

But sometimes in life you go through different phases. You want a different flavour.

Where I live now, most people, they know me like this.

So when they see my skin goes dark, they say: "You get too black man, you need to start rubbing."

But people who knew me before would say I shouldn't bleach.

My mum would say: 'Carlene, why are you doing this to your skin?'

Because I always had nice skin, growing up. I had a nice complexion.

But it's just life - you want to try something new.

Black or brown?

I had an ex boyfriend, he met me when I was brown.

I asked him at one point: 'Do you prefer me black or brown?'

He would say: "Any way".

I wish I could wake up in the morning and look like I did before

But even though he doesn't say to me, I know he's attracted to me in brown.

But I also I had a relationship with someone else, when I was rubbing.
He said he wouldn't say hi to me again, until I stopped.

So, people prefer different strokes.

A lot of people look at skin browning [favourably]. But honestly, it's destroying your skin.

Sometimes I lie down at night and wish I could wake up in the morning and just look like I did before this process started.

My advice to people who are thinking of starting, is that you can use something mild.

Even though I've stopped bleaching, I still use something mild, to maintain my skin tone.

Because if I stop now, I'm going to look like I'm poison.

That's the effect it has on you.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific