`Gorey rang ka kala khel'..Fairness creams can be dangerous!

New Delhi:To get a few shades fairer, you may be inviting serious side-effects and infections. Popular cosmetics and fairness creams are not blamed here but medications which contain a "cocktail of harmful steroids" which are supposed to be sold only through a prescription.

Due to societal pressure where fairness is widely believed to achieve success in personal life, and, sometimes even social mobility these drugs are increasingly becoming a popular source of attaining fairness creams. In fact, the government has classified all steroids for external application (ester, salt, preparation) under Schedule H, the category of drugs which need to be sold only through a prescription (not over the counter), and cannot be advertised. Under these new guidelines, there has to be a 5 mm thick red band on the tube/packet of all Schedule H products, with the words 'Scheduled drugs' in black letters to be printed on it.

Certain topical medication containing a cocktail of harmful steroids, form part of the list of 344 fixed dose combinations, banned by the government last year, with the case now to be heard in the Supreme Court.

According to a report in TOI ,the sale of steroid creams is over half a billion dollar business, with almost two-thirds of which are sold without prescription. If the new law is seriously implemented and enforced, it will stop this unethical, dishonest and unhealthy business, Dr Koushik Lahiri founding chair, IADVL Taskforce Against Topical Steroid Abuse (ITATSA) said, adding certain top-selling topical steroid cocktail creams are unscientific and irrational.

"Indiscriminate use of potent steroid containing cocktail creams (steroid+antibiotic+antifungal) over the counter without prescription is the real culprit", he said. There are over 1000 brands of topical steroids sold in the domestic market. Studies suggest that the sale of topical steroids account for 82% of sale all topical drugs in India. The derma market is growing double-digit, and is valued at over Rs 6,000 crore.

Dermatologists point out simple skin conditions are becoming almost non-treatable due to the widespread use of these cocktail-type creams. 

One of the side effects of steroid-containing creams is thinning of the skin, where the skin appears paler and hence such creams are being misused as fairness creams. Prolonged use causes other side effects like horrendous acne, unwanted facial hair, stretch marks, aggravation of infections and dependence on the cream, doctors say.

"The triple combination creams are bought over the counter, or prescribed by doctors who are unsure of the diagnoses, as a "shot-gun therapy", for any skin rash, with the hope that one of the ingredients will work. When used in the presence of infection, there may be a deceptive reduction in symptoms, but the rash rebounds with a vengeance, resulting in infections that are resistant to treatment, require a higher dose and longer treatment time to recover", dermatologist Belinda Vaz said.