Skin whitening or bleaching has low-key been a topic of discussion that is so subtle to everyday conversations for so many women and girls that it actually sounds acceptable and right when people try to justify it. As dangerous as this phenomenon sounds – it’s actually extremely common and popular in a lot of countries in the world, especially in Africa and Asia. It consists of using substances, mixtures, or physical treatments to lighten the skin tone. It sounds more tasteful with phrases such as ‘toning cream’ being used to describe them and have misleading photos of women with fair skin on the packaging. These products or treatments attempt to reduce the skin’s melanin content – literally.
In the beginning, the results seem to be favourable and it does seem to be making the skin applied on to look lighter. However, over time, it makes the skin tone appear purple, feels tingly and tight. You can almost notice a strange new skin tone emerge that looks washed out or grey-ish, almost sickly.
Sound crazy and actually ridiculous? Well, it is, and most of the chemicals that are used in the skin bleaching creams are legit illegal. Substances like hydroquinone and mercury are banned in most countries, but somehow still over half of the skin brightening or whitening products sold still contain these ingredients. Hydroquinone is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, which literally means it prevents dark skin from making the substance responsible for skin colour. It works to disrupt the synthesis of melanin and results in hyperpigmentation of the skin. With continue constant use of this stuff, it can cause leukaemia and serious irritation of the affected skin areas.
The pressure to be lighter and fairer affects Asian and Black communities the most. We have been conditioned for years, centuries and generations upon generations to innately believe that light skin is the right skin; white is right, fair and lovely is the only way to be attractive. The media does this daily and it creeps into our subconscious. Images of white models or fair skinned African or African American cast member in movies and prime-time shows only contribute and enhance this subliminal trend. Makeup companies, in the past at least, were notorious for not carrying a diverse shade range in products for women who are darker skin toned, which psychologically can impact how darker skinned women feel rejected from society and need to change what they look like to even purchase products to use and feel more beautiful.
You hear phrases like ‘you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl’, ‘you have beautiful features for a black girl, you’re good looking for a dark-skinned gal’
There are ways to tell when someone bleaches their skin. Some people use it every day; using it as a treatment to fix a ‘problem’ they believe they have. Those who bleach usually avoid sensitive areas like their eyes or the creases in skin folding areas such as the knuckles on their hands and the front of their knees. By doing this, these areas are noticeably darker than the rest of their bleached skin. Some women avoid placing the skin bleaching products near their eye area and it results in them having sickly racoon eyes that appear even darker against their newly bleached skin surrounding the eye area! However, those that do place the dangerous products near the eye area have that region over the years turn into a leather-like canvas.
I did a lot of digging, and the things some of the women had to say were literally cringe-worthy. They mentioned that the affected skin appears to be burnt, with visible red sores that cover the face from itching and scratching away when the skin was irritated. Some develop rashes and big pimples that don’t go away resulting in major scarring and patches of dark spots.
Some of these creams contain high levels of toxic mercury and can lead to mercury poisoning, which can manifest in psychiatric, neurological problems. This is also extremely dangerous for pregnant women who can potentially pass on mercury to their unborn child.
You think that’s all bad? Here are a few more of the side effects of the illegal creams that are so outrageous that it’s unbelievable:
- Fetal damage
- Kidney, nerve and liver damage
- Scarring of the skin
- Thinning of the skin
- Increase the risk of skin cancer
Rwanda has been recently applauded for standing up to the efforts of skin bleaching epidemic and is now actively working to blacklist over 1000 skin bleaching products from their streets and shelves. Over a thousand. Wow.
Despite all of this, the skin bleaching market is globally getting larger. Most recently, Blac Chyna collaborated with Dencia, the creator of a “skin brightening” cream Whitenicious to promote the cream in Nigeria. The skin bleaching cream sold for $250 USD a jar. In Africa. Celebrated and beauty influencer in the Youtube and Instagram industry Jackie Aina took to Twitter to express her distaste for the product which re-sparked the skin bleaching debate. The public outcry was enormous and re-verbalized a lot of thoughts and anxieties people faced with this issue. Jackie was never one to shy away from the topic of colourism, and made it her YouTube mission to show why representation matters.
Jackie Aina also uploaded a YouTube video in regards to her thoughts and opinions on the matter and discussed the importance of why representation matters in the black community. She beautifully broke down the reasons as to why black women need to uplift themselves and those around them, the importance of having a platform and using it wisely to address topics that are dangerous and harmful to both the mind and body and to educate the masses on trends and misconceptions in the beauty industry. She shared her opinion on popularizing skin bleaching and the impact it has on black women especially those who are vulnerable and don’t have the financial accessibility to even purchase the pricey products.
Sidenote: I stan for Jackie Aina. Okay, end of sidenote.
The skin bleaching market is on the rise and it does not look like its losing momentum any time soon. It is extremely painful to know that countries and regions in areas filled with naïve, uninformed consumers are being taken advantage of due to the world view them as less appealing to the eye to market their dangerous products freely. A lot of African countries like Nigeria and Jamaica continue to have underground markets for blacklisted products. Celebrities like Vybz Kartel who use the skin bleaching products personally even glorify it in their work. Vybz released a titled track called Cake Soap and even went on to defend his use of skin bleaching products.
So why do people still do this knowing all the harmful side effects it causes? Some people have low self-esteem, confidence issues, and some are just young and still figuring out their place in this world. I have watched YouTube videos of women and even young girls talk about how they feel dirty, unclean, and even ugly. By bleaching their skin, they feel like they are working on boosting their self-confidence levels and finding themselves. It’s so heartbreaking to see and hear beautiful and smart darker skinned women describe their skin to be so unattractive to them. You hear stories of young impressionable teenage girls starting to bleach their skin at higher rates and it is truly devastating. Like this woman for example, who destroyed her beautiful face with years of skin bleaching products and stunned her husband when she gave birth to a dark-skinned baby boy.
If anyone can stop this epidemic, I hope it is the doctors and social media influencers who have a platform to speak out and denounce this lethal and awful phenomenon. I applaud makeup brands increasing their shade ranges to be more inclusive. I also want to give a shout out to fashion brands on social media featuring different skin toned women wearing their clothing and encouraging representation of their consumers.
Have you or a loved one had experience with skin bleaching products and want to discuss its effects? What do you think of this topic and do you believe it will go away anytime soon? Let us know. Sign up and join the conversation. We would love to hear your thoughts.
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