A hot topic that rocked the internet last week was the banning of bleaching products by Rwanda because these chemicals are dangerous. Like Ghana, Rwanda has declared skin bleaching a serious public health issue. Whitening products contain harmful ingredients that expose users to chronic diseases such as kidney failure, studies have found. However, while we commend Rwanda’s move, we are tempted to note that bleaching blackness will still go on, regardless.
This is because widespread cosmetic lightening across Africa is less clinical, but more economical and social. Most users of these products don’t bleach their skin in vain. They do so because it promises to give them a certain level of social and economic advantage. Dark complexion is considered less attractive—making bleaching blackness a rational, well-calculated decision being made by users.
Take for instance the case of Côte d’Ivoire where toxic whitening is a booming activity. Here, a woman’s fiscal or social status, for the most part, is defined by the color of her skin. If a light-skinned woman starts to appear darker in complexion, she’s immediately accused of being broke. This puts many users under intense socially-induced pressure to keep up with the trend, even if that means starving for a day or two in order to save up for that Top Gel, Carol White, Mekako, Clinic Clear or Maxi White lightening product. They must continue to look “beautiful” and that’s all that matters.
For faster results, some use the lotion, facial cream, soap, and oil—all at once. Again, they really don’t care about the devastating effects of these products on their health. They are more focused on looking “beautiful” among their peers.
Like Côte d’Ivoire, cosmetic lightening is also a thriving economic and social affair in Liberia. FrontPage Africa, a prominent Liberian daily, reported on January 18, 2019, that that West African state is fervently encouraging the sale of bleaching products. Obviously, a ridiculous thing to do. But in all honesty, Liberian women, like their peers elsewhere across Africa, will spend hugely on bleaching chemicals as long as beauty is closely linked with fair skin.
The bottom line is that toxic lightening will not stop as long as users are obsessed with fair skin. It will not stop as long as blackness is considered less attractive. It will not stop as long as a fairer skin is preferable and more desirable because it is “beautiful”.
Therefore, banning bleaching products is only a scratch on the surface. There is urgent need for serious conversations around skin color and beauty to curb this color bias especially among African women.
Can skin bleaching be stopped? Please leave your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you.