It has become quite challenging that Nigeria, and indeed the black human race, are currently facing a skin bleaching epidemic. This epidemic has eaten deep into the fabric of our society so much that it has become a way of life for many people. From the streets of Lagos to the remotest community in Minna, users are everywhere in soaring numbers. In 2017, the global skin lightening market value amounted to about $4.8 billion and is forecasted to reach some $8.9 billion by 2027.
Despite the fact that bleaching, toning, fading, lightening etc. have life-threatening effects ranging from skin thinning, liver damage, kidney failure, high blood sugar and skin cancer amongst others, blacks are still unshaken in their resolve to achieve lighter skin. Worst still, many are switching over to “organic products” while some use glutathione pills and injections to achieve their desired skin complexion. Which leaves me asking, what’s the craze about a light complexion?
According to a CNN article by TED fellow and medical doctor, Ola Brown, several African countries, including Rwanda and Ghana, have banned the use of skin bleaching products because although safer alternatives exist, most of the bleaching and lightening products used in Africa contain harmful ingredients such as mercury and high-dose steroids. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 77% of women in Nigeria use skin lightening products – the world’s highest percentage! Now, that begs for some scrutiny.
It has been discovered that African society has subconsciously contributed to this unhealthy culture. Edward Ademolu, a PhD researcher at the UK’s University of Manchester, defines colourism as “an intra-racial complexion-based hierarchy, that often affords societal, cultural, economic privileges and favouritism towards lighter-skinned people and discrimination against those with darker complexions.” And this is evident in many parts of Africa, where light-skinned women are considered more beautiful and therefore more likely to succeed in some fields, such as in the modelling and movie industries.
Shingi Mtero, a lecturer at Rhodes University in South Africa who teaches a course on the politics of skin bleaching, adds that “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.” Although we have the freedom of choice, we need to remember that we are black people and so we need to be quite careful with the kind of message we are passing to the younger generation. Are we saying that light skin is preferred? Are we encouraging people to go to extremes to lighten their skin? Is it that we are not celebrating all skin colours but are laying emphasis on a particular type of skin which is in a way glorifying skin lightening and making other complexions inferior?
Watch the Truth About Bleaching
Matthew Knowles, the father of singer, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, once said during an interview that he believes that his daughter is more accepted in the entertainment industry because of her light skin and goes on to point out that “virtually no black popstars with darker skin had broken through in the past decade.”
Pheww! As a female navigating through life, I’ve noticed that when my skin is a bit fairer or brighter, people compliment me a lot, and when maybe I get hit by the sun or I get darker, I notice that people say things negatively like “be careful, you’re getting darker”. I’d never would have cared whether the colour of my skin was lighter or darker but I notice that societal perception, people’s comments do affect how you’re going to look at yourself. Because I’m a bit strong-willed, certain things don’t get to me but I imagine somebody else in a different environment, or maybe the younger ones, these things do have a greater effect than we presume. I’m in the makeup and beauty world and I see the pressures, I see that perhaps people think everything is perfect under a lighter skin, a dope makeover, and a flawless glow. You don’t want to know the struggles that go on behind the scenes.
In the words of Senior Registrar in Dermatology at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Dr Folakemi Cole-Adiefe, “our dark skin is a natural adaptation for sun protection. People who are lighter don’t have as much melanin which is the pigment in the skin that helps to absorb harmful sun rays to prevent it from penetrating into the skin and cause damage. This is the reason why people who live with albinism who have no melanin, are more at risk of skin cancer and that is because they do not have the natural melanin that dark people have. It is also a reason why skin cancer is more common in Caucasians than blacks.”
Now, banning bleaching products will not completely solve the problem of unsafe skin bleaching unless other measures are also put in place such as advocacy for fairness and equity regardless of skin colour amongst others.
I’ll pause here for now but I’ll love you to look at the stories of Lupita Nyong’o, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Michelle Obama, Chimamanda Adichie, Jada Pinkett Smith, Deola Sagoe, Taraji Henson, Ibukun Awosika, Issa Rae, Hajiya Bola Shagaya, Tiffany Haddish, to mention a few. You will see that these ‘coloured’ women are high flyers and that’s a pointer that you can accomplish whatever you set your heart to in the skin you are. Success is not made for a particular skin colour!Follow us on social media