Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Skin whitening products: soon illegal in Rwanda

13.12.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has launched a war against skin whitening products whose growing use in Africa calls for concern. The aim of this initiative is to ban the marketing of any cosmetic products used in whitening the skin throughout the country. This is unpleasant news these cosmetic industries that have made Africa a flourishing market to sell their products in. For the Rwandan Head of State, the aim of this initiative is to protect the population, particularly the women, who have become addicted to creams, lotions, serums and soaps that guarantee a quick and efficient change in complexion. To put an end to this fashionable phenomenon, the Paul Kagame wishes to work in collaboration with the police and the Ministry of Health because these measures will be accompanied by an awareness campaign among the population to expose the multiple dangers of skin depigmentation on health.

Depigmentation, a Practice with multiple dangers

Changing the colour of your complexion can be very expensive, not only in terms of money but also in terms of health. In Africa, many women engaged in this practice are ignorant of the risks they face while others who are aware of the health complications simply decide not to care. According to dermatologists, the danger of skin bleaching is based on the composition of the products used and sold on the market without any restrictions. Many of these products do not meet health standards. The vast majority contain substances such as hydroquinone and betamethasone which are harmful to health.

Rwanda is not the first country on the continent where the government wants to attack the whitening products industry. Long before the Rwanda, other countries were committed to the same fight.

Nowadays, changing the natural colour of the skin is no longer just about using creams, cleansing lotions, soaps, ointments and scrubs. Other methods have emerged and are in vogue. These include the use of glutathione injections and drugs that are supposed to act on epidermal cells. Many skin-whitening adepts use these drugs because of the fact that they contain a strong lightening potential in their composition. The International Information Association on Depigmentation, AIIDA, has compiled a list of these products, including mercury, vitamin C and carotene among others.

The diseases that result from the voluntary depigmentation of the skin are numerous. Some of the skin infections include the appearance of light spots on the feet and face, stretch marks; which are difficult or even impossible to treat, eczema and fungal infections. The frequent use of whitening products thins skin, weakens it and makes it difficult to heal. In addition to reducing skin thickness, these products, some of which are react when exposed to the sun, accelerate skin aging.

Doctors report more serious dangers than those mentioned above, such as neurological and renal complications, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac arrest due to glutathione injections. One of the most serious consequences is skin cancer, because many products used for depigmentation are carcinogenic. According to medical officials, they are responsible for 07 types of cancer. Skin odour and eye irritations are other consequences that can be added to this long list of hazards.

Skin whitening, a public health issue

The fight against the use of lightening products by people with dark skin has become a public health issue, hence the involvement of many African governments in the fight to eradicate them. Rwanda therefore follows in the steps of the DRC in 2006, Senegal in 2013 and Ghana in 2017. However, Senegal’s campaign was not very effective because although it campaigned against skin whitening, it did not address the marketing of whitening products in the country. The same applies to Ghana, which, in collaboration with the National Food and Drug Agency, has simply drawn up a list of banned substances in cosmetic products.

To address the growing problem of skin depigmentation, Africa requires a more centralized strategy. Sociologists believe that voluntary depigmentation of the skin results from the complex of stereotypes that make white skin a model of beauty. In a bid to fight these prejudices that have created an inferiority complex among people with dark skin, Burkina Faso has decided to tackle adverts that promote skin whitening products.

The health risk posed by this new trend and its rapid spread in Africa has been condemned by the World Health Organization, which in a 2011 report warned of the many risks Africans are exposed to by allowing bleaching to spread across the continent. This report lists the African countries with the most adepts of skin bleaching; Nigeria occupies the first place with 77% of women addicted to bleaching. The most populated country in Africa is followed by Togo 59% and South Africa 35%. These figures show that the skin whitening products industry has a long stay in Africa if nothing is done to deal with the root of this problem that benefit from a lot of media coverage.

Bleaching, a very mediatized fashion effect

The idea of lightening the skin finds its essence in the complex that many Africans nourish when it comes to their skin colours, especially women who claim that fair skin is synonymous to beauty, more visibility and more opportunities on the professional level. These complexes are fuelled by media through adverts that portray women with fair skin tones as beauty icons. Several African or African-American celebrities act as muses. They use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. to promote the effects of miraculous creams on dark skin all day long.

A commitment that does not favour the “black is beautiful” enthusiasts who find it shameful that these stars, who have great influence on young people, use their images to promote products that do not enhance the black identity. African-American reality TV star Blac Chyna paid the price. The announcement of his arrival in Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria in November to promote a bleaching cream has been the subject of much criticism on social networks. She has even been described as a racist by several Internet users and African celebrities, including Burna Boy and Fuse ODG, who consider her initiative absurd.

In order for Africa to free itself from the effects of skin whitening, it must put an end to the prejudice about dark skin. In addition to campaigns on the negative consequences of depigmentation, fundamental works for a real change of opinion must be done in order to break the stereotypes that make light skin a standard for beauty. The Kenyan actress and director Lupita Nyong’o was able to establish herself as a model of black pride and self-acceptance by promoting her sublime ebony skin and campaigning against the use of lightening lotions by young black women.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image /illustration

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