The cosmetic use of skin-lightening products during pregnancy in Dakar, Senegal: a common and potentially hazardous practice

Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2007 Feb;101(2):183-7. doi: 10.1016/j.trstmh.2006.06.007. Epub 2006 Oct 4.


Many women of childbearing age from sub-Saharan Africa use topical skin lighteners, some of which present a risk of toxic systemic effects. The goals of this study were to evaluate, in this environment, the frequency of this practice during pregnancy, as well as eventual consequences on pregnancy. Ninety-nine women from 6 to 9 months pregnant were randomly selected among those attending a standard maternal centre in Dakar for a prenatal visit. Investigations consisted of questions about the use of skin lighteners, a standard clinical examination, follow-up until delivery and a morning blood sample for plasma cortisol levels. Sixty-eight of the 99 selected women used skin lighteners during their current pregnancy, the main active ingredients being hydroquinone and highly potent steroids (used by 64 and 28 women, respectively). No difference in the main outcomes of pregnancy were found between skin-lightener users and the others; however, women using highly potent steroids, when compared with those who did not, had a statistically significant lower plasma cortisol level and a smaller placenta, and presented a higher rate of low-birth-weight infants. Skin lightening is a common practice during pregnancy in Dakar, and the use of steroids may result in consequences in the mother and her child.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Caustics / adverse effects
  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hazardous Substances / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Hydroquinones / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced*
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Salicylates / adverse effects
  • Senegal / epidemiology
  • Steroids / adverse effects


  • Caustics
  • Cosmetics
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Hydroquinones
  • Salicylates
  • Steroids
  • hydroquinone