Is Beauty Really Only Skin Deep? Exploring the Skin Bleaching Epidemic in Africa
06 Jun 2015
The skin bleaching epidemic is global; however, it's most prevalent in Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Nigeria tops the list of the percentage of women in the country using skin-whitening products with 77%. Togo came in second with 59%, and Senegal third at 27%. With these types of numbers, it is clear that business is booming for the companies that make these products.
The reasons people decide to lighten their skin vary. Many people start out using skin lightening products to combat the issue of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is one of the most common skin disorders for darker skin. It’s a condition in which there is an overproduction of pigment caused by increased melanin. It can also be caused by sun exposure, acne, medications, and irritation to the skin, resulting in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Skin lightening creams are not the best way to treat this disorder. Rather, using exfoliants and the right cleansers will help remove those dead skin cells, balancing your skin tone and leaving you with the beautiful black skin your Creator gave you.
Some people use these bleaching creams to remove scars. However, the vast majority of people who bleach their skin have been indoctrinated to believe that being of a darker hue is unattractive. This type of thinking has been blamed on Western colonization, but even after so many years of fighting for freedom and equality, many of us still don’t consider ourselves equal unless we can lighten our skin. The number of people that bleach their skin in Africa is at an all time high. So many people who use these products don’t fully understand the adverse effects, so my goal as a licensed esthetician, is to break it down for you.
Hydroquinone is the most active ingredient in bleaching creams and works by inhibiting the pigment-forming enzyme “tyrosinase.” It has been banned in some countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Australia, Japan, and all of Europe due to its link to cancer. This chemical is considered to be an irritant above 4% concentration and can be an unstable ingredient in formulations of cosmetic products. Some scientists have also proposed that hydroquinone poisoning can lead to a lower IQ and verbal difficulties.
Mercury is also another active ingredient in skin lightening creams. It can cause skin rashes, skin discoloration, and scarring (according to WHO). This particular ingredient is also used in many skin-lightening soaps, which some people apply to the skin and leave to dry overnight. All in the hopes of expediting the process of skin lightening. You can’t help but wonder if the increased likelihood of getting skin cancer is really worth all the money spent on bleaching products?
The skin bleaching debate went into overdrive in 2014 when Dencia, a Cameroonian singer, created and became the face of the product “Whitenicious.” While this product sold out within a day of hitting the market, what it failed to mention is that its use will totally wash away all traces of your Black skin. If that’s what you want, surely no one can stop you from going for it, but again, I ask why? One look at this image of a woman suffering from the effects of prolonged use of skin bleaching products should give you pause if you are considering it.
I asked a few people about their thoughts on skin bleaching. Here is what they had to say:
“I am no way a fan of white, fair skin, but even if I were tempted, I look around me and I see people with ‘bleaching gone wrong’ and I promptly give up the idea. Well maintained dark skin rocks any day.”
—Ugochi John-Nwosu Obialor , Nigeria
“There’s NO way on EARTH I would ever BLEACH this BEAUTIFUL DARK CHOCOLATE. It's my identity. Being my father's first-born child, it's his dark skin: lighten for what? I am dark and Beautiful, I love my SKIN, tone!” —Tatia Bradley, Nevada, USA
“After creation God declared that you were good, and in his eyes you are the most perfect creature on earth. If everybody would remember this, the world would be a perfect place to live. But personally, I think people change who they are because of lack of self acceptance and lack of self acceptance leads to utter destruction of one’s image.” —Sister Mary Felita Iwenofu, Manchester, United Kingdom
“Bleaching is due to low self esteem, lack of confidence in oneself and pressure from a slave mentality/colonial mentality society where men sometimes urge their own wives to bleach.”
—Harrison “Harry Baba” Nwozo, Washington, DC, USA
“Bleaching starts from trial and error of beauty products. Once it goes wrong you keep trying to correct its side effect. Women that bleach have low self-esteem, but the reason I can't fathom is why men bleach also. Disgusting!” —Tochi Igbokwe, Abuja Nigeria.
“I would never bleach this beautiful caramel skin of mine. I love the skin I'm in. That's what the good Lord gave me and He DON'T make no mistakes!”
—Anetra Lowery, Maryland, USA
If you’ve ever heard the term, “Black don’t crack,” it’s because black skin doesn’t age as quickly. It's thicker and has more melanin for additional sun protection. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use sunscreen—but that’s a different topic for another article.
In essence, no matter what the media portrays as the “standard of beauty,” we owe it to ourselves to love the skin we’re in.
We’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on skin bleaching?
Photo (top) Eye Imagery