[QODLink]
Features

Nigeria's dangerous skin whitening obsession

Nigeria has the world's highest percentage of women using skin lightening agents in the quest for "beauty".

Last Modified: 06 Apr 2013 11:21
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Lagos, Nigeria - After carefully washing her face, legs and arms, Taiwo Solomon vigorously rubs cream over her body. She is meticulous and makes sure she covers her entire face. Soloman, 32, is bleaching her skin. She believes fairer skin could be her ticket to a better life. So she spends her meager savings on cheap black-market concoctions that promise to lighten her pigment.

This has been a daily routine for the past 15 years. Now several shades lighter she says her new skin makes her feel more beautiful and confident.

“Bleaching just makes me feel special, like am walking around in a spotlight,” she told Al Jazeera. “I am not seeking to be totally white, I just want to look beautiful. I cannot stop using the lightening agents,” she adds.

Solomon is not alone. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 77 percent of women in Nigeria use skin-lightening products, the world’s highest percentage. That compares with 59 percent in Togo, and 27 percent in Senegal. The reasons for this are varied but most people say they use skin-lighteners because they want "white skin".

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

It's not only women though who are obsessed with bleaching their skins. Some men too are involved in the practice.

Conceptions of beauty

Lightening creams are not effectively regulated in Nigeria where even roadside vendors sell tubes and plastic bags of powders and ointments from cardboard boxes stacked along sidewalks in market districts. Many of the tubes are unlabelled as to their actual ingredients.

"An African will prefer to be called John-Philip. If you said your name was Chukwu Emeka Afongkudong they will say you are from the village. You are backward. How can you have such a name? We really look down on our culture and heritage instead of being proud of it. "

Femi Kut, Nigerian Musician 

In a market in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, business is booming for shops selling skin-lightening products. Both local and imported products line the shelves of Rashida Lawal’s cosmetics shop.

"About 90 percent of my clients come asking for skin whitening products," she told Al Jazeera. "I sell it to them and give advice on what product is best for them and how to use them."

She says most of her customers are in a great haste to lighten their skin.

“Taking the color of your skin to different colour has to be gradual. It's not something you decide one day that 'I want to be fair, I want to be like Michael Jackson and you become Michael Jackson all of a sudden'. That is why we have to advise them first before selling it to them” said Lawal.

Rashida and her staff also mix different ointments and creams for customers “depending on the desired level of lightness”.

Famous Nigerian Musician Femi Kuti says the use skin-lightening products have given rise to their own terminology.

“When the bleaching propaganda got so negative, they had to come up with toning. Bleaching sounds too hard, now it’s toning. I don't bleach, they say, I tone!”

“They think bleaching is gege,” he told Al Jazeera, using a Nigerian term for cool.

Femi attributes skin bleaching to a feeling that foreign products and images must, by definition, be good. 

“An African will prefer to be called John-Philip. If you said your name was Chukwu Emeka Afongkudong they will say you are from the village. You are backward. How can you have such a name? We really look down on our culture and heritage instead of being proud of it,” he laments.

Dangerous consequences 

Skin bleaching comes with hazardous health consequences. The dangers associated with the use of toxic compounds for skin bleaching include blood cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys as well as severe skin conditions.

Hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments containing toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which gives the skin its colour, but can also be toxic.

Ayobode Williams, a medical doctor, says the skin bleaching agents have both internal and external effects on those who use them.

“Systemically it causes things like kidney failure because of the mercury in some of the products and it also causes eczema, skin pigmentation among a host of other infections,” he told Al Jazeera.

Dr Williams warned that sustained use of bleaching agents could cause even cancer.

Yet few seem to pay attention to these dangers. For those who bleach, staying black is not beautiful at all.

846

Source:
Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
Spirits are high in Scotland's 'Whisky Capital of the World' with one distillery thirsty for independence.
President Poroshenko arrives in Washington on Thursday with money and military aid on his mind, analysts say.
Early players in private medicine often focused on volume over quality, turning many Chinese off for-profit care.
Al Jazeera asked people across Scotland what they think about the prospect of splitting from the United Kingdom.
Blogger critical of a lack of government transparency faces defamation lawsuit from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
join our mailing list