In 2017, a 2002 survey by Zero Hg, Mercury Working Group which placed Nigeria second on a list of bleaching product consumption with a staggering 99 million users, underlining the effects of colorism in Nigeria and the need to be the societal standard for ‘beautiful’ resurfaced - India is first with 735 million users.
Pulse then proceeded to ask why so many Nigerians are bleaching, and in particular, why we choose to blame this worrying rate of consumption on ‘colorism’ and how Nigeria appreciates the lighter skin tone as an effect of colonialism and internalized racism, instead of blaming the vanity behind it all.
But even with the debates around the issue, Nigeria still welcomed American model and socialite, Blac Chyna who came to promote bleaching products. We also knew the health risks of consuming bleaching products, which are sometimes available on prescription by medical professionals.
Due to these health risks, The New York Times reports that countries like Rwanda have followed in the footsteps of Cote D’Ivoire to ban bleaching products from the shelves due to the numerous health risks they pose to the populace. Thus any shelf still carrying bleaching products in those regions carries contraband goods.
Why exactly are bleaching products harmful?
Bleaching products usually contain hydroquinone, corticosteroids or mercury as key ingredients and those have a range of harmful side effects when they get used too much.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that of the three substances, you’re likely to find that mercury is more dangerous. It can cause kidney damage, skin rashes, scarring, anxiety, depression, psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy, as well as reduce the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.
Some of these side effects include;
• skin irritation and inflammation (redness and swelling)
• a burning or stinging sensation
• itchy and flaky skin
The health risks include;
• skin turning dark or too light
• thinning of the skin
• visible blood vessels in the skin
• kidney, liver or nerve damage
• abnormalities in a newborn baby (if used during pregnancy)
Thus, while announcing the new decision, Simeon Kwizera, a spokesman for the Rwanda Standards Board, said in a phone interview on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, said “We have been conducting inspections on cosmetics to ensure that they are hydroquinone - and mercury-free. We are seizing some cosmetics, inspecting the shops and markets and advising the sellers.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 61 percent of the skincare market in India consists of skin lightening products. The WHO also reports that 77 percent and 59 percent of Nigerian women and South African women respectively use skin bleaching creams on a regular.
Mentally, skin bleaching is also wrong because it devalues the dark skin and promotes the intuitive inferiority of black skin to lighter skin. It also fuels the vanity that in turn fuels colorism by making women – especially - uncomfortable in their own skins unless they bleach when dark-skinned people also succeed and make waves in several fields.
The idea of colorism is a systemic problem and allowing bleaching creams to thrive only promotes its infamy.
Why and how should you use bleaching products?
Mostly, bleaching products should only be used on prescription by medical professionals who have an idea for the need and the necessary rate of use. Lest, people turn harm into normalcy and continue to subject their bodies to the rigors of radical changes that in turn subject these bodies to the possibility of the above mentioned health risks which might include skin cancer – by implication.
Even when you have to use skin bleaching products on prescription, follow the doctor’s directions of use or follow these provisions by the National Health Service (NHS) UK;
• use it sparingly once or twice a day on the darkened area of skin only
• avoid getting the cream on the surrounding skin or in your eyes, mouth, and nose
• apply the cream with a cotton bud, or wash your hands thoroughly before and after applying the cream
• avoid touching the treated area against another person's skin for at least a few hours after applying the cream
• use sun cream to protect your skin from the aggravating effects of sunlight
Rwanda follows the steps of Cote D’Ivoire that banned all skin whitening creams, following South Africa that in 1983 - banning all but 2 percent hydroquinone creams. In 2016, Ghana also began a ban on certain skin whitening products that include hydroquinone.
While Rwanda had banned these substances in 2013, they are enforcing the laws in 2019. The bleaching products industry is worth a billion dollars as reported by The New York Times.
Should Nigeria ban skin bleaching products?
Yes, but it’s not just about banning skin bleaching products, it’s about publicizing the ban and attaching serious punishment to open or secret sale or promotion of bleaching products.
Despite the ban in South Africa, people still sell the products because a lot of them are unaware of the severity of their actions. Even worse, a lot of people simply restock their seized bleaching product and carry on their business as revealed in a January 2018 documentary by Unreported World.
The problem we, however, face with the ban of such popular business is making things worse and creating a criminal underground like America did with ‘The prohibition.’ Coming with the ban should be a thought-out plan to curtail all criminal undergrounds that spring up and reduce their activities to the barest minimum.