Even outside the country, in far places like Dubai, business is booming for people who sell, among other cosmetics, skin lighting products. In our part of the world, one in every 10 dark skinned persons is now a patron of bleaching products, whether consciously or not. Most of us have come across at least one lady who attempts to whiten her skin. They are easily identifiable by the uneven patches of darker skin fading away and the dark colour still retained by the joints, the elbows and knuckles. Those who who successfully bleach look almost ghostly, because even with the new skin tone on top, there is an underlying layer of dark skin that makes them look slightly off-colour.
Usually the preferred method is to use lightening lotions and soaps. Some may use stringent facial cleansers, body scrubs, and even anti-fungal creams in order to bring out their inner beauty. There are even rumours of a particular drug designed to help flush out impurities and lighten the skin. Disparaging comments are usually made verbally or on social networks about people who bleach. Somebody on Facebook once posted the question to his friends, “why do girls bleach?” The question, till date, is still valid. Why do girls – sometimes boys – bleach their skin?
The first reason is the societal attitude towards fair girls. They are considered more beautiful. And why not? Their skin is more eye-catching than regular brown or dark chocolate skin. Light coloured skin is thought to be a sign of wealth, since maintaining it under this weather is rather expensive. This attitude is traceable to age-long impressions of inferiority in the average African towards the white man. Another reason is the men. Most guys are more attracted to girls with light skin and seem to treat them with more respect. The music entertainment industry does not help matters one bit, by featuring half caste or white girls in music videos. That way, they poison the minds of the dark skinned girls who will now consider themselves not beautiful enough to be featured in these videos.
Apart from this blow to self-esteem, bleaching has several dangerous medical consequences. Hydroquinone, a bleaching agent found in most skin lightening products, suppresses the production of melanin, reducing the skin’s natural shield against the sun’s ultraviolet rays increasing the risk of skin cancer. It also penetrates the skin and causes damage to connective tissue, inducing premature aging. Mercury, another toxin found in bleaching creams, causes cancer. Bleaching brings out rashes and unsightly blotches on the skin surface and weakens the skin so that it cannot be stitched when cut. If the chemicals are absorbed in the bloodstream they can cause organ failure and brain damage.
The society needs a complete attitude adjustment concerning the meaning of true beauty. The phrase “black is beautiful” needs to be revived both in speech and action. The entertainment industry has a responsibility to promote the image of dark skinned Africans as the essence of true natural beauty. The rest of us have to learn to take pride in how we are made. The truth is that no one else will do it for us. It must begin with us.