The dangers of skin bleaching are being discussed more and more. Ghana banned sales of products containing a chemical called hydroquinone in 2016. This is because skin lightening products have been linked to blood, liver and kidney cancer.
Yet the industry is estimated to be worth 4.8 billion US dollars. The World Health Organisation reported in 2013 that 77% of Nigerian women use skin lightening products on a regular basis, making them the highest users in Africa.
WHY ARE SKIN LIGHTENING PRODUCTS STILL POPULAR?
CNN journalist Ola Brown has argued “banning skin bleaching products won’t work as long as fair skin is linked with beauty and success”.
Brown demonstrates the importance of not blaming or shaming women who bleach their skin.
“African women don’t bleach their skin simply because they are vain. They lighten their skin because fair skin is too often seen as more attractive and provides them with an economic advantage.”
Bobrisky, a Nigerian internet personality who sells a range of skin lightening products, explains in an interview with Today’s Women that it was a business decision to alter his skin tone. He received more media attention and business opportunities with a lighter complexion.
WHY IS FAIR SKIN STILL CONSIDERED IDEAL?
According to Shingi Mtero (Rhodes University, South Africa), “in post-colonial Africa, there is still a premium on light skin. Whiteness is something that many Africans aspire to, and light skin still has social capital.”
Brown argues “this is the reason I believe banning these products will not completely solve the problem. We must open up a conversation around skin colour and beauty and the media, particularly the fashion media, which must feature other types of beauty beyond the Western ideal, to end this colour bias.”
Recently, African women in the media have been inspiring others by speaking out about learning to love their darker complexion.
Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o is set to publish a children’s book named Sulwe, which will tell the story of a 5-year-old girl who struggles with having the darkest skin tone in her family.
Having previously discussed her own struggle with her complexion, the actress was inspired to write the book by a young fan who wrote in a letter to her: “I think you, you’re really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood over night. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
British Ghanaian filmmaker and animator Comfort Arthur created a short film, which tells the story of her learning to love her darker skin. This was nominated for an Africa Movie Academy Award.
Black Barbie has raised awareness across the world about the dangers of skin bleaching and aims to dispel the myth that “lighter is better”.
She believes that animation is a powerful tool with which she can create dialogue about skin bleaching.