Skin Bleaching: Where Black Isn’t Beautiful

Skin Bleaching: Where Black Isn't Beautiful

Women and men have resorted to cheap ‘mixtures’ as skin lighteners, having uncharacteristically light skin faces while the rest of their bodies are darker.

The reasons for this are as varied as the cultures in this country but most people say they use skin-lighteners because they want "white skin" for it will make them beautiful and appealing so as to find lovers or get into marriage.

According to them, they resort to creams sold in the black market which are by no means risk-free, doctors say.

The dangers associated with the use of some of these creams include blood cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, as well as a severe skin condition called ochronosis, a form of hyper-pigmentation which causes the skin to turn a dark purple shade, a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town, Dr Lester Davids, said.


He said that over the past six years there has been a significant increase in the number of skin lighteners flooding local markets, some of them legal and some illegal.

Local dermatologists say they are seeing more and more patients whose skin has been damaged by years of bleaching – most of the time irreversibly.

In many parts of Africa and Asia, lighter-skinned women are considered more beautiful, believed to be more successful and more likely to find marriage.

The origin of this perception in Africa is not clear, but researchers have linked it to Africa's colonial history where white skin was the epitome of beauty.

The World Health Organization has reported that Nigerians are the highest users of such products at 77 per cent followed by Togo with 59 per cent; South Africa with 35 per cent; and Mali with 25 per cent.

South Africa banned products containing more than 2 per cent hydroquinone – the most common active ingredient in skin lighteners, in the 1980s.

However, it is not uncommon to see creams and lotions containing the chemical on the stalls in Congo. Some creams contain harmful steroids and others mercury.

Psychologists say there are also underlying reasons why people bleach their skin – but low self-esteem and, to some degree, self-hate are a common thread.

But skin-lightening is not just a fascination and obsession of women.

Congolese hair stylist Jackson Marcelle says he has been using special injections to bleach his skin for the past ten years, each injection lasting six months.

"I pray every day and I ask God, 'God why did you make me black?' I don't like being black. I don't like black skin," says he.


Marcelle – known in this busy community as Africa's Michael Jackson – says his mother used to apply creams on him when he was young in order to make him appear "less black".

"I like white people, black people are seen as dangerous; that's why I don't like being black,” he added, saying that people treat him better now because he looks lighter.

Entrenched in the minds of many Africans from a young age is the adage "if it's white, it's all right", a belief that has chipped away at the self-esteem of millions.

Until this change, no amount of official bans or public information campaigns will stop people risking serious damage to their health in the pursuit of what they think is beauty.

By Tom Omulo.


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