Former slugger Sammy Sosa's admission that he is using "bleaching cream" had me looking at before and after pictures with a fascination not known since the days of Michael Jackson's metamorphosis. Sammy frustratingly did not supply the name of his cream that has been so miraculously lightening his skin tone (naturally, I was looking forward to scrutinizing it in minute detail). Assuming there is a cream (and I have to say I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he is really having chemical peels) my guess would be that is contains a hefty dose of hydroquinone, the strongest skin whitener available.

It is also controversial. The FDA banned over the counter hydroquinone from being sold in the US in 2006, following suit with Japan, Australia and the European Union. The FDA’s ban on hydroquinone does still allow for products with less than 2% of Hydroquinone to be sold OTC and up to 4% prescribed by dermatologists.

Hydroquinone has been found to be carcinogenic and some studies also report abnormal function of the adrenal glands and high levels of mercury in people who have used hydroquinone-containing cosmetics.

Hydroquinone also has been linked with the medical condition known as ochronosis, a condition in which the skin becomes dark and thick. Dome-shaped yellowish spots and grayish-brown spots also are observed in ochronosis among black women and men in South Africa, Britain, and the US. Ochronosis has been observed in conjunction with hydroquinone use even in persons who have used hydroquinone-containing cosmetics for a short time.