Bringing back the conversation about black women bleaching their skins


“It is an embarrassment to see an African woman bleach her black skin. Black is too Beautiful!” Fast-rising Artist, Ajaeze, wrote on his Instagram status.

He had written “Black is Beautiful”, talked about the cosmetic industry and went on to talk about the ’embarrassment.’

He must have seen enough of ‘white Nigerian women’ in the country and knew that it was time to talk. But, not everyone will agree with him though.

The white apologists

There are women – and men – who believe that black skin is not as attractive as people, these days, portray it to be. And, the entertainment industry, especially, Nollywood, helps push this agenda.

The corporate world, which may strongly disagree, has also consciously leaned towards support for light-skinned women for employment, business, etc.

This is what inspires skin bleachers to go on.

We may want to argue for colonial mentality, but that is another conversation and may take more than a short piece to discuss. But, the desire for a lighter complexion is not a new phenomenon anywhere in the world. It’s deeply rooted in the history of slavery and colonialism.

White apologists also argue that contemporary fashion fits more with white skin and a black-skinned lady will ‘disappear’ in clothes with dark colours like black or brown.

To date, white skin is still read as a marker of privilege and access. It is almost like skin bleaching is a strategic choice.

“The whiteness of the skin is considered an important cultural element in constructing female beauty worldwide. This is evident, particularly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, the culture of bleaching has become common among black Africans. It is no longer news that every lady wants to look good, attractive and beautiful. Therefore, the practice of beautification has become the other of the day. The practice of beautification has gone beyond tampering with specific parts of the body but the whole body which is an act of changing one’s skin to look lighter and more attractive,” Oberiri Destiny Apuke says in Why Do Women Bleach? Understanding the Rationale behind Skin Bleaching and the Influence of Media in Promoting Skin Bleaching: A Narrative Review.

It has become the order of the day, and men have since joined the train. Sometimes, white skin is argued to be a way to communicate purity.

The choice apologists

There are others who will ask everyone to shut up and allow people make their choices. This one is a ‘woke’ phenomenon, and while these people may not agree with the choice of the other person, they insist that people are left alone as ‘it is their body’.

The implication

Skin-bleaching practices, such as using skin creams and soaps to achieve a lighter skin tone, are common throughout the world and are triggered by cosmetic reasons that oftentimes have deep historical, economic, sociocultural, and psychosocial roots. 

Skin Bleaching and Dermatologic Health of African and Afro-Caribbean Populations in the US: New Directions for Methodologically Rigorous, Multidisciplinary, and Culturally Sensitive Research

Let’s take inspiration from an article in Guardian:

These processes of skin lightening have a lot of health risks attached to it. Almost all bleaching products are composed of either of the three active ingredients – namely Mercury, Hydroquinone, or various corticosteroids and these components when used without prescription from a physician, dermatologist or doctor can have serious effects on the skin, below are some.

Mercury Poisoning
Most bleaching has been linked to mercury toxicity, according to Healthline. Mercury has been banned as an ingredient in skin lightening products in some countries such as the United States, but products made in other countries still contain mercury. Mercury can cause numbness, high blood pressure, fatigue, sensitivity to light and kidney failure.

There are medical reports that have linked the use of skin bleaching products to dermatitis. This is inflammation of the skin caused by contact with certain substances. The symptoms of this include skin redness, skin ulcers, blisters, swellings, and itchings.

Kidney Disorder
This is often caused by damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys responsible for filtering waste and excess water. It causes the body to excrete too much protein in your urine. Skin lightening creams containing mercury have been associated with nephrotic syndrome. Symptoms of this include; foamy urine, loss of appetite, swollen feet and ankles, and fatigue.

The act of lightening one’s skin can also be incredibly detrimental to one’s self-confidence and mental health. 

We are not arguing that people cannot make their choices, but we argue that people can love their skins the way they are.

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