There are fears some African refugee women may be turning to powerful steroid creams to lighten their skin.
Skin bleaching is a major concern for Monica Forson who is co-founder and president of the Afro-Australian Student Organisation and youth advisor to the Ghana Association of Australia.
Ms Forson said it was sad that people felt compelled to use skin lightening creams.
“I know my friends don’t necessarily skin bleach, but they have been pressured to do so by parents.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) skin lightening containing potentially toxic cortisone steroid is a global issue.
It said Nigeria had the biggest usage, with 77 per cent of women obtaining it.
The practice is also widespread in parts of south and central Asia.
Those toxic creams can cause dizziness, fatigue, and swelling of the face and abdomen, and in extreme cases it can cause kidney problems and diabetes.
There are safer, legal creams, which do not contain cortisone, but millions of women are risking the harmful ones, amid claims they are more powerful in lightening skin.
Skin bleaching cases in Hunter Valley
Concerns about the use of cortisone creams to lighten skin were first raised by Hunter Valley health officials in 2008, prompting an education campaign to assist the high number of African refugees in the Hunter Valley.
Newcastle dermatologist Dr Avland Amiri believes he has encountered cases of it in his practice.
He said he recently saw a woman with stretchmarks all over her body — a telltale sign of using the cream.
“She had a skin type 5, or dark skin, and she was referred to me by her GP because she started having multiple stretch marks on her body,” he said.
“I started investigating and there wasn’t any change in her hormonal levels or Cushings syndrome.
“I realised that her skin is much whiter on her legs and on all the places where the stretchmarks were,” Dr Amiri said.
He said it took the woman some time to admit to him that she had actually been using a cortisone skin bleaching cream.
The cream is sold by illegal street vendors in the woman’s home country for as little at $US5 a tub.
It is believed to be sourced by family members overseas and sent to women living in Australia.
Dr Amiri said it was not something he would expect to see in his Newcastle practice.
“She said she got it from her home country, and like everyone was using it in her family,” Dr Amiri said.