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‘Addictive as a drug,’ Africans share experiences with skin bleaching

A net photo of a woman before and after bleaching her skin

A huge market has developed in Africa for products to lighten the skin.

Here is a selection of quotes from people interviewed by AFP’s African bureaux to illustrate the scale of the phenomenon, the risks and its moral dimension:

– Trend –

“The reality in the African (model) industry is: the lighter your skin tone the more beautiful you are.”

– Ajuma Nasenyana, Kenyan model

“The (employment) advertisements have made it even more alarming… all they put is that they want fair ladies. So who doesn’t want to be fair?”

– Dr. Edmund Delle, dermatologist in Accra, Ghana

“70 percent of the girls in school were bleaching their skin. Most guys prefer it. When you’re fresh, it looks like you’re from a rich family.”

– Celine Peter, university student in Lagos, Nigeria

“Some believe this is what men want, some just want their skin to glow.”

– Elizabeth Kobiti, a cosmologist in Lagos, Nigeria, who mixes creams

“There’s a high demand for skin lightening. Most of them want it, especially when it’s looking good.”

– Pela Okiemute, businessman in Lagos, Nigeria

“It’s addictive as any drug”- Dabota Lawson, cosmetics entrepreneur in Lagos, Nigeria

– Risks –

“I started to get stretchmarks and sunburns, my skin would react and I’d get dark marks. I was naive… when you’re young, you just do things not caring about the effects.”

– Tenny Coco, a Lagos makeup artist and vocal opponent of the practice

“We all know clearly as medical doctors if you have any bleaching agents in chemical products, there’s a limited amount of weeks you are allowed to use it.”

– Dr. Aranmolate Ayobami, a plastic surgeon in Lagos, Nigeria

“The products I sell are mostly composed of glutathione or sometimes hydroquinone. I can have healthy products if my customers ask for it but it is not always the case.”

– Hassan, 25, who sells skin-bleaching creams in Mombasa, Kenya

“We don’t have any data to show what kind of effect, chronic use of glutathione leads to in the body.”

– Lester Davids, physiology professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa

– A moral issue? –

“Because of our history with apartheid, most black people associate being white with superiority and privilege, and as a result when a black person is light-skinned, you are perceived to be better off, somewhat privileged and definitely beautiful.”

– Mbali, a 28-year-old student in Johannesburg, South Africa

“It’s not something that started today, it’s an age-old addiction that dates back to the era of slavery. People have been programmed to believe lighter is better. A re-education is needed.”

– Dr. Rasheedah Adesokan, skincare specialist in Lagos, Nigeria

“Skin bleaching is one manifestation of folks trying to get power and privilege aligned with whiteness. It’s not specific in Africa, it’s the way whiteness is positioned all over the world.”

– Yaba Blay, political science assistant professor at North Carolina Central University

“Some people have come to believe that light skin people are superior in some sort and prettier. It doesn’t matter to me. The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

– Nandi, a 23-year-old in Johannesburg, South Africa

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