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Dying to be Light?




Ad for Fair & Lovely Cream

*Disturbing Pictures Below*

We all do a lot of things in the name of beauty, but would you pour laundry bleach on your face or smear arsenic (found in rat poison) on your body, in order to attain a lighter complexion? If both of these sound bizarre to you, it is what a lot of women are doing to themselves all in the name of beauty. I was recently inspired by an episode of the Tyra Banks show that focused on women who bleached their skin. Watching the show, I cringed at the measures these women underwent in order to achieve what they believed was a “better complexion”.

On a recent shopping trip at a beauty store in Lagos, I was dumbfounded to find endless shelves of bleaching creams that offered everything from a “fresh clear face” to one that is “white and silky”; all with varying percentages of Hydroquinone and other chemicals, selling for less than $5. Staring at the shelves of this store, as well as many others in Nigeria, I was perplexed by the popularity and easy availability of dangerous bleaching creams in our market.


For many years, bleaching creams that promise to “whiten” the dark skin of African women have profited and flourished tremendously in the African continent. In countries like Ghana and Nigeria, where a 2002 survey stated that skin bleach usage was close to 75%, very little attention and efforts are being made to raise the awareness of the dangers of these creams. Bleaching creams do more than “lighten” your complexion; they erode the top layers of your skin and cause irreversible damage to your body.

Key Ingredients of Skin Bleach

Bleaching creams and lotions primarily contain hydroquinone or mercury; both harmful chemicals, as their main ingredients. Hydroquinone is a severely toxic and very powerful chemical used in photo processing, rubber manufacturing and acts as an active agent in hair dyes; while mercury in the form of mercury chloride and ammoniated mercury, is a carcinogenic (cancer-causing substance). Both Hydroquinone and Mercury work to inhibit melanin production in the body, which then makes brown pigmentation less visible and as a result looks “lighter”. It is important to remember that this process does not remove the cells that make the pigment, and so continual use of bleaching products is needed to “maintain” the lighter shade. Overtime, Hydroquinone or Mercury applied to the skin will react with the UV rays of the sun and re-oxidise, leading to more pigmentation (darker skin) and premature ageing.

What most skin bleach users or first time users don’t understand is that lighter skin is achieved for a short period of time, and they are forced to upkeep their appearance and become daily users. The vicious cycle of continuously bleaching one’s skin, then alters the skin’s natural structure and makes the skin more susceptible to skin cancer.

bleaHydroquinone and Mercury are strong chemicals that affect the skin and body in irreversible ways. Daily usage of Hydroquinone damages the collagen fibre that makes up the skin, while mercury stripes the skin of its natural pigment. Studies have linked hydroquinone with the increased risk of cancer, adrenal gland problems, metabolic disorders and tissue problems surrounding the eyes, ears and joints. One of the long term uses of mercury include the damage it does to your vital organs; like liver and kidney failure.Mercury has also been known to cause neurological damage.

Regardless of these damages, none can be compared to the visible damage that skin bleaches do to your body. A popular side effect of skin bleaches include the very visible dark patches on the face that are a result of sun burn, since bleaching thins the skin and makes it more vulnerable to sun damage. Apart from this, Hydroquinone and other skin bleaching agents, cause big pimples all over the face, redness and irritation on the face and other bleached parts; as well as discoloration and hyperpigmentation.

What puzzles me is this: “If such products are deadly and dangerous, why are they in the market in the first place?” The truth is that very little can be done about curtailing the presence of these products in the market. In 2001, the U.K government banned products containing hydroquinone and as far as 1978, the UK government prohibited all products that contain mercury. In Nigeria, very little effort by the government has been made in reducing the entrance of these goods in the market. However, in response to the reason as to why these companies produce these dangerous products, they are simply just responding to a huge “demand”. Despite these efforts by the government, it does not change the fact that demands for Skin bleaches are high and seem to be increasing. The real question is why do a great number of Africans (and Asians) have a penchant for using skin bleaches and lighteners?

The answer to this question varies, but it really all comes down to vanity and a “conditioned” sense of what is considered beautiful. What started out as a crazed phase in the early 60’s, catching much of its hype in the 70’s through the early 90’s, has reared its ugly head once again. Our society must admit that skin ligtening is a mental and social disease. Whether it is dishwashing liquid, cement water, or window cleaners; a majority of African women are putting themselves through dangerous chemical mixtures all in the hopes of getting “lighter” and becoming beautiful. Whatever the reason might be for doing this, it is important to remember that True beauty comes from within, and that people can only see that which you radiate from the inside, and we must learn to appreciate what we have. We only have one skin, and whatever harsh chemicals we put on it cannot be reversed, instead of trying to change one’s complexion; we should focus on how best to take care of it and let it radiate the way it should. Using skin bleach is very DANGEROUS and causes irreversible COMPLICATIONS, so please be sure to pass the message to anyone you know that might be doing this, so that the demands for these products will eventually decrease.

As the Dove commercial says, we must learn to LOVE the SKIN we’re IN.

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