In a recent appearance on ESPN earlier this week, former Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa caused a stir with his visibly whiter complexion. Stills from the interview have gone viral on the internet and once again dredged up controversy about the athlete’s tendency to bleach his skin.

Sosa has been open with his skin bleaching, claiming that he uses a cream to soften his skin, but it also has the side effect of lightening it.

“What happened was that I had been using the cream for a long time and that, combined with the bright TV lights, made my face look whiter than it really is,” explained Sosa in 2009, The Washington Post reported. “I’m not a racist, I live my life happily.”

While the exact details of Sosa’s skin health are known only to him and his dermatologist, experts widely agree that skin bleaching can have devastating effects on your skin, and overall health.

Read: Sammy Sosa, Ex-Baseball Star, Continues Skin Bleaching; Appears 'Downright Vampiric' [PHOTOS]

Skin bleaching creams are extremely popular in some cultures, especially in Africa and India, although they are also used in Sosa’s home country of the Dominican Republic as well, Everday Health reported. The reason that people choose to lighten their skin is highly controversial; some say the practice stems from the colorism idea that whiter skin is more beautiful, while others use the cream to fade scars and freckles.

How Does It Work?

We get the color in our skin, hair and eyes from a pigment called melanin, and skin lightening products work by reducing the amount of melanin in the skin. In the U.S., the most widely used ingredient in skin lighteners is hydroquinone. However, according to FDA regulations, over-the-counter skin lighteners cannot contain more the 2 percent hydroquinone, WebMD reported, and should not be used for longer than 2 to 3 months.

In addition, other skin lighteners can use steroids and retinoic acid to reduce melanin. However, According to WebMD, although banned in the U.S., the active ingredient in many skin lighteners is mercury, with one study suggesting that as many as a quarter of skin lighteners manufactured in Asia contained mercury.

Is It Safe?

Skin lighteners carry a number of risks: premature skin aging and thinning, increased risk of skin infections and pimples, and even a risk of skin cancer. Hydroquinone, the ingredient in most U.S.-made skin lighteners, may cause unwanted and often untreatable skin discoloration, WebMD reported. However, for those who choose the buy their skin lighteners outside of the U.S., the consequences can be even more extreme.

Prolonged use of mercury-based skin lighteners can lead to mercury poisoning, a serious and deadly condition. Mercury is a toxin with no nutritional value in the human body. It can cause serious psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problems. Common symptoms of mercury poisoning include: mood swings, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, headaches, tremors, weakness, and decreased cognitive functions, emedicine reported. In extremely high concentrations, mercury can cause kidney malfunction, respiratory failure, and death. In addition, pregnant women exposed to mercury can pass the toxin to their unborn child.

See Also:

Skin Bleaching Helped Vera Sidika's Career, Singer Says, But Experts Warn Of Health Risks

Bleach Solution May Prevent Skin Aging: Could New Beauty Treatment Be Found On Your Cleaning Shelf?