A couple have avoided jail after admitting selling illegal skin-whitening products online.
Jonathan and Holiness Ikpere are thought to have earned hundreds of thousands of pounds from selling banned bleaching concoctions from their home in Towpath Mead, Southsea.
They imported large quantities of cosmetics from countries in West Africa before selling them on and were caught in the UK’s first national investigation into the online sale of dangerous skin-whitening products.
Jonathan Ikpere, a PhD student studying at Portsmouth University, set up various PayPal accounts to collect orders for eBay purchases, which had a turnover of more than £100,000.
Southwark Trading Standards, who led the investigation, seized nearly 3,000 illegal and dangerous skin lightening products from their home.
Paul Gander, team leader of Southwark Trading Standards, said: “The Ikperes imported a large volume of cosmetics from Nigeria and made a small volume themselves on their premises. A lot of this stuff comes into this country from West Africa, Pakistan and even China.
When officers raided their home they discovered a mixing bowl in the kitchen, where the couple’s own brand of skin lighteners were being created. Holiness Ikpere even marketed the products with her own face on the labels.
Mr Gander added: “The dangerous element of what they were doing were unbelievable. Holiness had no safety or quality control of what she was manufacturing. Cosmetics need to have preservatives in them.
“There needs to be safety assessments carried out which they did not do. She was putting illegal ingredients in the products but not informing customers.”
Those who bought the products risked permanent skin and blood vessel damage and even infection.
Rapper Lisa Mercedez has been lightening her skin for over 10 years. She believes skin bleaching is a practice that needs to be further exposed and understood.
“At first it wasn’t intentional to start using skin lighteners. Growing up as a child I had loads of moles in my face and I always felt insecure about them. I remember a friend introducing me to these products and I started using them as a way of getting rid of them,” the British-Jamaican artist said.
Lisa, who has worked with Stefflon Don and US rapper Nicki Minaj, said she relies on the products because of her work but understand the risks she is taking for a fairer complexion.
She added: “When I first arrived to this country from Jamaica I remember experienced a lot of racism and in a way I wanted to be a shade lighter.
“I also think being lighter you get praised more. After doing it and seeing the way I look I actually liked it and that’s why I’ve continued using the products. This isn’t something new. A lot of people are using these things and I don’t think they are honest with it.”
Skin lightening is a multibillion-pound global industry, with millions of people from African, Caribbean and Asian communities using creams and lotions to alter their skin.
Despite the risks, many are prepared to lighten their skin.
The couple pleaded guilty to manufacturing toxic bleaching cosmetics and were fined £17,000, as well as given 60-hour community service orders each.
Both received suspended sentences, six months for Jonathan and four months for Holiness, suspended for a year.
Skin expert Sujata Jolly has been campaigning against skin-lightening creams for two decades. Her company has noticed an increase in the number of people buying the illegal products in recent years.
She warned: “Skin bleaching ingredients, such hydroquinone and kojic acid, work by inhibiting the production of melanin, which is a key component in protecting the skin from harmful ultra-violet radiation.
“Whilst the skin may initially appear to become lighter, many users experience adverse and harmful effects. Rather than lightening, the skin it goes through several phases from a sooty appearance to thickened skin with a caviar-looking texture.”
Southwark Trading Standards said the Ikpere’s case demonstrates their determination to tackle the illegal use of skin-lightening products.
A spokesman said: “Trading standards have suffered enormous cuts but luckily in Southwark we are well resourced, however, we know tackling this problem on the internet can be a game of cat and mouse, but we are prepared to stop this potentially deadly trade.” – Sky News