An investigation by Sky News has discovered that shops in London are selling unlicensed or prescription-only skin-bleaching products to willing customers.
In Peckham, southeast London, the investigators purchased a tube of Fashion Fair Cream from two shops.
This product is unlicensed in the UK and contains Clobetasol Propionate, a prescription-only steroid used for the treatment of illnesses such as eczema or psoriasis.
Due to the risk of hazardous side-effects, its use should be controlled by a doctor, and it should not be sold over the counter to the general public.
These products are generally prescription only products that are unlicensed for over the counter sale in the UK.
Similarly in Peckham the investigators purchased Movate, a cream that has not been tested or licensed in the UK, and also contains prescription-only ingredients.
In Brixton, they found Dermovate on sale at a beauty shop.
Although licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, selling these products in the UK without prescription is illegal.
After first telling the sky team reporter that they did not stock the item, the assistant found some behind the counter and sold it to them for £4.99.
Most skin-whitening creams are safe and legal to sell to the public.
They are sold to women from Afro-Caribbean and Asian backgrounds where there can be a perception that fairer skin is more attractive or desirable.
According to Hansa Dabee, an Asian, she started using skin-bleaching products at the age of fifteen, after experiencing what she describes as “cultural pressure” to have fairer skin.
According to her, “I wanted to make my skin appear lighter because I wanted my complexion to be clearer and I thought it would make me more attractive”.
“I used to watch Bollywood films and the actors appeared to be a lot lighter than your average Asian. They went on to approve lightening creams in commercials.
“At school the boys would drool over pictures of Bollywood actresses on their phones. They were fascinated with how fair and light they were.
“Every time I used it I thought, ‘Wow, my skin looks so much clearer’. But I stopped using lightening cream about a year ago after considering the massive dangers it could have.”
Afro American singer Beyonce was recently in the middle of a controversy in which she appeared in photographs that looked as though they had been digitally enhanced to lighten her skin colour.
Local authorities have taken action to clamp down on shops illegally selling unlicensed bleaching creams.
In the past seven years, a total of 15 shops have successfully prosecuted by Southwark Council in south London.
When confronted, the shops that were visited by the investigators all denied selling illegal products.