The domination and the colonization of Africa by the various white race in the 18th and 19th century did not only jeopardize our independence in all aspect but also dominated minds of Africans to feel inferior of their color as compared to the white race as said in our local dialogue “Obroni”. This is entrenched in the minds of many Africans from a young age with the adage “if it is white, it’s all right.” A belief that has chipped away at the self-esteem of millions of people. Skin bleaching refers to the use of products to lighten dark areas of the skin or achieve an overall lighter complexion.
Until this changes, no amount of official bans of public information campaigns will stop people risking serious damage to their health in the pursuit of what they think is beauty. They don’t want to speak openly about why they bleach their skin or even have their pictures taken.
Psychologists say there are also underlying reasons why people bleach their skin but low self-esteem and to some degree of self-hate are a common thread. Several African countries, including Rwanda and Ghana, recently banned the use of skin bleaching products because they are dangerous.
Although safer alternatives exist, many of the bleaching and lightening products used in Africa contains harmful ingredient such as mercury and high- dose steroids. These ingredients can cause kidney failures and other illnesses, making skin bleaching a public health problem that governments need to address.
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 10 years which every injection taken lasts for six months. This done to his skin gives him the confident he needs and has it economic advantage. In Ghana, this pathetic attitude has been associated with certain tribes where they think, bleaching gives a new look and beautifies the skin, brings confidence and makes rock in the same shoulders with the whites.
South Africa banned products containing more than 2% hydroquinone, the most common active ingredient in the 1980s, but easy to see creams and lotions containing the chemical on the stalls here. It has become more common recently with the influx of people from countries such as Nigeria, and Democratic Republic of Congo where there are even a widespread.
In a bustling African market in the Centre of Yeoville in Johannesburg, it is skin lighteners galore. Noticeably, many of the women have uncharacteristically light skin faces while the rest of their bodies are darker. Some even have scabby burns on their cheeks from the harmful chemicals used to trip the skin of pigmentation. Very few people in South Africa and Africa know the concentration of the toxic compounds that are contained in the products on the black market and that is concerning.
The Health Organizations need to educate people about these dangerous products and how it adversely affects the body. Dr. Lester David from Cape Town says 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 illegal.
Statistics compiled by the world health organization in 2011 showed that 40% of African women bleach their skin. In some countries, the figure is higher: staggering 77% of women in Nigeria ,59% in Togo,35% in South Africa,27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali use skin-lightening products.
Skin lightening, however, is not limited to any part in Africa. In 2017, according to Future Market Insights, Asia-pacific made up more than half of global market for skin lightening products with china accounting for about 40 percent of sales Japan 21 percent and Korea 18 percent.
In Africa, there is no documented history of skin lightening took off, but Yaba Blay, who teaches black body politics and gender politics at North Carolina Central University, believes that it began as African countries gained their independence.
With education and awareness campaigns and a deliberate move to broaden the spectrum of the skin tones that we see on our television screens and billboards, the needle on colorism will eventually shift. We need a strict regulation from the Food and Drugs Board Authority and regulatory agencies across the continent to ensure the safety of skin products being sold in stores and markets.
Banning bleaching products will not completely solve the problem of unsafe skin bleaching unless other measures are also put in place because fair skin is too often seen as more attractive and provides them with an economic advantage.