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Getting Into The Bleached Skin Debate

Should we? Get into the bleached skin debate I mean. It’s a never ending one that tends to have women split right down the middle!

People around the world often try to alter their skin color, using tanning salons or dyes to darken it or other chemicals to lighten it. In the gritty slums of Jamaica, doctors say the skin lightening phenomenon has reached dangerous proportions. Why?  Because to the people, some how,  a lighter skin is attributed to access to a better life,  whether real or imagined.

Every year women and men from cultures as diverse as Nigeria, India and the Philippines spend billions of dollars on skin-lightening products – many of them made with toxic and possibly carcinogenic ingredients. What motivates people to do this, is it the result of cultural pressure or a bad case of colonial hangover?

You see, in the days of slavery a mixed woman was considered to be better than a dark skinned woman because she contained the blood of a white person. She wasn’t just another slave girl, she was the descendant of a wealthy, intelligent, and prosperous white person.

Unfortunately, the love for women who are mixed (or at least appear mixed) has carried on throughout generations and now has been accepted as a social norm.

As if the cultural history behind what makes light skinned women beautiful isn’t troubling enough, the consequences of skin bleaching can extend much father than emotions and self esteem.

 Doctors are releasing warning after warning to inform the public that skin bleaching creams cause blood and skin cancer. They also lead to skin burns, other various forms of skin damage, and ochronosis. This trend is particularly prominent in African and Asian countries where many claim that darker skin has been devalued. In Nigeria, as much as 77 percent of women use skin-lightening products with the reason that men are more drawn to the light skinned women!  In all honesty, we tend to agree.  Read further.  Local shops have a myriad of products designed to make dark skin lighter: Kojic acid soaps, fade creams, hydroquinone creams, whitening shower gels made from goat milk and for the more determined: skin lightening drugs and injections.
The critics might be unwilling to concede this publicly, but the harsh truth is that in Africa, lighter skinned girls do get more attention and are more appreciated than darker skinned women. It’s on TV,  in gatherings and almost everywhere you turn.  Add that to a woman’s natural desire to be liked and admired by the opposite sex or any sex at all,  and you find a woman ready to spend hundreds of thousands of naira to change her skin color.

Lots of bleachers in countries like Jamaica and the Caribbean use over-the-counter creams, many of them knockoffs imported from West Africa. Long-term use of one of the ingredients, hydroquinone, has long been linked to a disfiguring condition called ochronosis that causes a splotchy darkening of the skin. Doctors say abuse of bleaching lotions has also left a web of stretch marks across some faces!

In Japan, the European Union, and Australia, hydroquinone has been removed from over-the-counter skin products and substituted with other chemicals due to concerns about health risks. In the United States, over-the-counter creams containing up to 2 per cent hydroquinone are recognised as safe and effective by the US Food and Drug Administration. A proposed ban by the FDA in 2006 fizzled.

Skin toning, brightening, lightening, whitening and what have you are all synonyms used in place of skin bleaching due to the unpopularity of hydroquinone. Many of these tubes and creams are unlabeled as to their actual ingredients and still,  they are well patronized. In Nigeria,  both light skinned and dark skinned women seek to be lighter.  The already light skinned seek out means to ‘maintain’ their color,  which becomes a necessity because of the tropical weather we have here where the sun appears to double down, sometimes even from the morning. When that happens, the skin gets an unwanted tan and then begins a frantic search for what to ‘revive’ the skin with!

Niki Minaj

Some hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments that contain toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which give skin its colour, but can also be toxic. Are people willing to go that far? You wonder.  They are.

Before you think it’s only women who are willing to risk skin cancer to be a “yellow bone,” (A phrase used for those moving two to three shades away from their original complexions) however, many men are going to extremes to become lighter as well.

Sammy Sosa

Today’s society has done just as much to discourage people from embracing and loving their dark skin:

“Black people are seen as dangerous; that’s why I don’t like being black,” admitted the proponent to the fact, living in the US. “People treat me better now because I look like I’m white.”

An episode of “What Would You Do” on ABC put that very same theory to the test and received frightening results.

When they placed a black man in the middle of a park and instructed him to attempt to steal a bike, every one who passed by immediately threatened to call the police. Next they placed a white man in the same situation and not only did people walk by as if he wasn’t trying to saw the bike chain off the fancy ride, several strangers asked if the man needed help.

So this is the solution to many-  A way to look beautiful to get the man of their dreams, to be treated fairly by others, to be accepted by the general population, not be profiled by the police, and a way to be anything except black.

Kenyan socialite Vera Sidika, who revealed on Al Jazeera Stream she spent tens of thousands of dollars on her skin whitening treatment set people talking!


Similarly, South African musician Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, now several shades lighter, says her new skin makes her feel more beautiful and confident.

Studies have revealed that over a third of the women in South Africa bleach their skin in hopes of obtaining “white skin” so they can be beautiful.

The argument for some is,  how then do I restore my naturally light skin tone beaten down constantly by the sun or by the changes in skin tone that comes from pregnancy?  For this group, they desire the ‘lighter’ effects – toners, lightening oils,  whitening body washes, goats milk,  and soaps.  They use these ‘ helpers’ for a while and when they are satisfied,  stop.  What’s even better for this group is the discovery of organic skin lighteners like we talked about here yesterday. The likes of lemon,  honey,  turmeric and even more are enough for this woman who’s not ready to go all the way.  This surprisingly make a for good percentage of women living in Nigeria.

Well, the grass is always greener on the other side. Europeans want tan skin, but Asians and Africans want fairer colour.The dark skinned vs. light skinned debate has stemmed on for years and it is leaving young women feeling insecure and ugly when they are truly beautiful. Even the men need to be a part of this change of thought, and we don’t just mean as the major influencers!


Research: www.jamaicaobserver.com, stream.aljazeera.com, atlantablackstar.com,